Stumbling Blocks or Building Blocks

“You may have heard the saying that the difference between stumbling blocks and building blocks is the way we use them. What I view as troublesome or problematic may be so only because I choose to see it that way. But if I accept the possibility that there is a script or plan other than mine that life is following, I can then engage what I find troublesome rather than rail against.

I don’t know one alcoholic who wrote that part into their life’s script. But I know many who have embraced the fact of their alcoholism and are now helping others who struggle with that addiction. Likewise, I don’t know anyone who planned to have cancer, but I know a number of cancer survivors who now live everyday of their lives gratefully, and who counsel others to do the same. These are but two of the many ways we can turn personal tragedies into triumphs, two examples of how stumbling blocks can become building blocks that make of our life and enduring edifice.”

The first paragraph above seems to suggest that there is a script or plan for our lives. Is that true? Are the hard times we experience meant to be? Are we predestined to run into stumbling blocks? It may be easier to deal with difficulties if we believe this is true, but even if we do not, we still have an option as to how we respond to what befalls us; we can resist and resent what comes our way, or we can engage the unexpected/unwanted in a way that makes us better persons.

The initial instinct is, of course, to react against what is hurtful, unfair, and unexpected – no one wants what is difficult. But with the passage of time we can become better able to see with different eyes, to recognize opportunity and possibility, to glimpse light where there was once only darkness. Choosing to embrace life’s difficulties, however, does not guarantee that the going will be smooth; using imagery from the Old Testament, monk and mystic Thomas Merton says “the Red Sea only parts when you’re in water over your head.” The way forward may be murky, but putting one foot in front of the other leads to freedom.

The examples mentioned above, addiction and illness, serve to highlight what can happen when we as individuals respond to life’s difficulties as a doorway to a new and positive path. But what is true personally is also true collectively – think pandemic. We can bemoan the limiting reality of this event, and we can huddle in fear against its pervasive danger, or we can, along with being careful, be open to the lessons it may offer about our vulnerability (we are at the same time resilient and fragile), our common bond with all humanity (the same things cause us pain and bring us joy no matter what country we call home), and the importance of reaching out to those most in need (we may not be able to “fix” them, but we can all do something for someone).

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