The previous post I shared was about the value of hardship and the blessing of discomfort. I wrote about fasting from food, and how doing so both sharpens the spirit and clarifies the mind. I wrote about wintertime backpacking and the after-trip clarity that comes from a cold and miserable weekend.
Discomfort Over Dullness was the title of that piece. In it, I marveled at how little discomfort I regularly experience—and the clarity that invariably comes when I decide to embrace that discomfort.
Well, we’ve got clarity in abundance now.
Or we should, according to my earlier reasoning.
It’s been over a month since I wrote and shared those thoughts, and I’ve been thinking about them ever since. At the time of posting (2/28), there were just 62 cases of COVID-19 in the United States. It was barely a blip on the collective national radar.
Things have changed.
We now live in the Age of Coronavirus. My earlier thoughts are no longer a safe academic exercise, but now a blistering reality. You hear our present moment described in dozens of different ways — “Season of Disruption” is just one of them. Disruption, discomfort, uncertainty. Right now we don’t have much external control over our national discomfort. We are trying to mitigate and lessen it, but nothing is a guarantee.
What I was really writing about was the type of pain and discomfort that I have control over. Sure, the hike is cold and wet—but I can always hike back to the car and head home. Yes, my food-fasting makes me ache right now, but I’ll be sure to eat something before I really begin to starve. If I’m honest, I wasn’t writing about real suffering, but about selective discomfort. Like a hard workout in the gym—it hurts, but you know it will end soon enough.
So this is something different, on a different plane, requiring a different resolve. A new question must be answered: Will I as readily embrace the benefits of suffering when I can’t control it?
This is not a blog post of confident conclusions.
However, here are two thoughts:
First, crisis-time heroes are just ordinary women and men under normal circumstances. Peggy Noonan refers briefly to this in a recent column: We Need Time to Absorb All This. (Even beyond that thought, her piece is worth reading—it well captures my current condition.)
Second, internal fortitude grows when beset with outward pressures. Or—internal fortitude often grows. There’s no guarantee that hardship will make me better, but my attitude and perspective does seem to play a role.
This word from James the Apostle speaks to that: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Count it all joy.