E08: Finding hope in the midst of a storm
This is a podcast transcript. If you would like to listen to the show in full, please find it on our podcasts page here.
The year that shall not be named has been tough for most people. But the only constant in life is that everything changes and seasons do pass, eventually. This Christmas eve, we will discuss how to find hope in the midst of challenging times.
In this episode:
The tragic story of Horatio and Anna Spafford
Have hope that all storms pass and seasons end
Give thanks for glimmers of light
Look for lessons and opportunities
Links in this episode:
It’s Christmas Eve, everybody! I absolutely love Christmas. I kept my tree up until May this year. I was forced to take it down when I was 9 months pregnant because I did want to deal with taking it down once I had a new baby. I will try to talk slower today. I got super excited last week and really sped up for some reason.
A couple announcements before we get into this week’s podcast. First of all, next week we are talking about habit formation and resolutions. A record amount of people are planning to create resolutions this coming New Year’s. But historically, most people have a pretty poor track record of success. We are going to talk about what makes new habits stick and what causes them to fail.
Speaking of resolutions, it seems like a lot of people want to take a pause from social media next year and I don’t blame them. Social media has been rife with division this year. If you plan to do so, make sure you subscribe to my podcast via other means, like iTunes, Google podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, and more. For some reason it can be hard to find me by searching in iTunes - maybe I’m still too new. Anyway, if you go to my website, youruncommonlife.com, and click on the listen tab, I have a direct link to my iTunes page there.
If you aren’t planning on giving up social media, I hope you’ll join me on my Facebook page! I have a group called Your Uncommon Life Community that I’m hoping to turn into a page where listeners of the show can share questions, advice, and encouragement! Go ahead and request to join Your Uncommon Life community there. Of course, I will have all of these links in this podcast transcript on my website.
Finally, I will have my first guests soon! At least 2 are scheduled and will be published in the next month or so. They’ll be sharing their own unique stories of adversity and I hope you’ll listen in!
Ok, on to the show! For this, my Christmas Eve podcast, I wanted to do something that inspired hope and was encouraging after what has been a challenging and confusing year for many people.
I don’t need to go into the details of the year - you know what’s happened. The year that shall not be named has been hard for most people and affected us all in different ways. It would be great if we could just move past it but turning a blind eye to our challenges prevents growth and learning. I’m not saying we should dwell on our suffering. That’s self-pity. This is a self-pity free zone. We are all about reflection, trying to understand what we can learn and looking for opportunities that even the toughest seasons and storms present to us.
I would venture a guess that, throughout this past year, most of us have faced some kind of adversity or had unforeseen circumstances create forks in our roads where we’ve had to make tough decisions or been forced down new paths.
I’ve seen some people take the new bends and twists in their roads and turn them into opportunities. Multiple friends of mine have started new businesses, turned pipe dreams into realities, moved to better areas, reconnected with family, and discovered new hobbies. They probably never would have stretched themselves in these ways unless they were forced to.
That being said, some of us have faced things this year that seem insurmountable. You may have lost hope, wondered when the worst would pass, or gotten to the point where all you could do was bear down and just get through each day. Those seasons are very real and sometimes are unavoidable.
But this year is a season. The pandemic is a season. Job loss is a season. Homeschooling is a season. Seasons may not end favorably for all involved, but they do end. As you well know, most things don’t end the way you expect but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t opportunities, lessons, and silver linings to be found in the unexpected. You can’t always change what season you’re going through but you can control how you deal with it.
Seasons are periods of time marked by a set of unique events or circumstances. Much like a winter season that begins with a blizzard, rough seasons of life are often set off by storms. Storms are acute, painful, sudden events that dramatically shift your course.
Do you currently feel like you’re up against something that you can’t solve or have you felt that way in the past year? What got you through it? Did you grit your teeth with anxiety until the storm passed? Did you come out the other side with a new perspective?
Sometimes we can’t change what we’re going through. How do we move forward when we can’t solve our problems and don’t have an end in sight? In the midst of a storm, it may be all we can do to just bear down and get through it. Simply not giving up may be a success. However, when the lightning and thunder stops, it’s important that we ground ourselves quickly, not dwell on our pitiable state, and find a way to get through the upcoming tough season. You can't always control your circumstances, change the season you're in, or undo a storm that’s passed. So if we can’t change our circumstances while we pass through a tough season, we can still change our mindset and gain perspective. I’m not talking about saying unconstructive, toxic, and meaningless things like “hang in there” and “you got this.” I’m talking about using real tools to gain a more constructive perspective. I’ll dive into them later but first, I have a story.
Do you know the hymn “It is well?” Even if you don’t know much about hymns, you have likely heard the song or seen the phrase “It is well with my soul” on wall hangings and artwork. These isolated phrases that sell for $12.95 and hang in people’s hallways do little to capture the moment those words were written. Horatio Spafford is the author of that hymn. This is the story of how it was written.
Horatio Spafford and his wife, Anna, epitomized what it means to have hope in the midst of a storm. History often tells the story of Horatio but I am struck by the character and hope of Anna as well. They were blessed with five beautiful children and lived in Chicago. He was a lawyer and they were wealthy. The Spafford family came to know tragedy well. When their son, Horatio Jr, was four years old, he died of scarlet fever. A year later, in the Chicago fire of 1871, Horatio suffered significant financial loss when many of his properties burned.
Two years later, in 1873, the Spafford family was going to take a trip to England. Horatio was delayed so he sent his wife and four living children ahead of him - four daughters from the ages of 2 to 11. Tragically, while crossing the Atlantic on a steamship, their vessel was struck by another ship and went down. At first, Horatio thought he had lost his entire family. Later, his wife, Anna, sent him a telegraph. She wrote: “Saved alone.” She alone had been rescued after floating unconscious on a plank of wood that landed in South Wales. After Anna was rescued, Pastor Nathaniel Weiss, one of the ministers travelling with the surviving group, remembered hearing Anna say, “God gave me four daughters. Now they have been taken from me. Someday I will understand why.”
Horatio took a boat to England to recover his wife. While on the voyage, the captain alerted him when he passed over the place where his four young daughters had drowned. It is said he wrote “It is well” right after he passed the place his daughters died though some accounts say he wrote it a little later. Regardless, we know it was written as a response to the tragedy and loss he experienced. I won’t attempt to sing it - I’ll save you the pain of that - but I’ll read the first verse.
When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul
Horatio later wrote to Anna’s half-sister, “On Thursday last, we passed over the spot where she went down, in mid-ocean, the waters three miles deep. But I do not think of our dear ones there. They are safe….. dear lambs”.
I cannot conceive of a person who has suffered what Horatio and Anna suffered and who came out with such strong messages of hope. No doubt, after this storm, they endured a challenging season. It seems that their perspective is what got them through it. They went on to have three more children, including another named Horatio who also died at four years old just as their previous son had, and lived their remaining days in ministry in Jerusalem. Their story has gone on to touch countless numbers of people through the hymn “It is well.”
It's easy, when going through a dark period of life, or even just a hard day, to feel like that's all there is. To get wrapped up in how we’re feeling, become fearful, anxious, bitter, or to complain, wallow, and practice self-pity. However, storms are temporary. If there is one constant in life, it is that everything and every season comes to an end. A season could be a day, a year, or 20 years, but all things do end eventually.
When we fear circumstances or outcomes, we give them power over us. It’s interesting that we fear an outcome we can’t control and yet, the way we react to that fear in turn gives the outcome even more control over us. We let it control our decisions, actions, and thoughts. We worry and build anxiety while we wait for the storm to pass. The best way to gain control is to let go of it. Let go of the fact that outcomes and circumstances are beyond your control. When your mind is free of that burden, you can focus on what you can control - which is your thoughts. That is the only place where you are 100% in the driver’s seat. Sometimes even your actions are constrained by circumstances outside of your control. But not your thoughts. That is where you rule as master. When you narrow the focus of your concerns to your mindset, you can start to make progress, grow, and find hope in the midst of chaos.
My story pales in comparison to Horatio and Anna Spafford’s. I wish I would have learned to adjust my mindset during a recent tough season. I hope you’ve caught wind of my learning style by now. I make mistakes until there is enough pressure that I could burst and then I do a 180 degree course correction.
With that said, enjoy my predictable storyline: Last September, I bought a house, started a job, and found out I was pregnant all in the same week. We bought the home impulsively and didn’t have a plan to sell our existing home. We thought we could list it within a month or two. Wrong. Instead, we discovered a massive roof leak in our new home that required a huge roof replacement bill.
The day we discovered the roof leak was the day I broke emotionally. Suddenly I was completely overwhelmed. It was like a wave crashed down on me. I lost my cool, lost my objectivity, and feared this new expensive and unpredictable future I was facing. This roof leak delayed fixing up and selling our old home. We were halfway through a kitchen remodel there. When well-intentioned people asked me if I had the nursery ready or was “nesting,” I laughed to keep myself from crying. Of course I wasn’t nesting! At 8 months pregnant, I was on my hands and knees demoing tile and remodeling a kitchen. The old home finally sold two days after I had my baby. During this entire ordeal, my job required regular 60 hour work weeks with a client who loved early morning meetings.
Over this past year, while pregnant, working, and owning one home too many (I don’t recommend this), I was often so overwhelmed I would panic. My poor husband bore the brunt of my emotional outbursts. I’d look at the list of things to do and unload all of my fears onto him. I usually hurt our relationship and would stall progress on the home renovations.
It wasn’t until near the end of my pregnancy that my husband and I talked and I managed to have a calm, objective perspective on the situation. We had to acknowledge that this season would pass. We would list the house eventually. The baby would come eventually. Then I wouldn’t be working. Things would look different...soon. My anxiety and emotional outbursts had only made matters worse and delayed progress. What’s weird is, once I stepped back and gained perspective, suddenly we did make more progress on the homes. It’s as though, by clearing my mind of the junk I couldn’t control, I was able to focus on what I could control.
When going through a tough season, the foundational thing to keep in mind is hope that it will pass. Have hope that all things pass and have a purpose. As we said before, the only constant is change. The only guarantee for any situation is that it won’t always be this way.
If you’ve ever been pregnant - or even if you haven’t been, you can likely imagine what I’m about to describe - you know that there are 3 trimesters. The first is typically marked by fatigue and morning sickness. The second is typically a reprieve from that, but you start to show and get bigger. The third is a return of fatigue plus a host of other pains that come from your internal organs being squished, carrying extra weight, and your joints essentially turning to jelly. Each trimester can be tough for its own reasons. But one of the things that gets you through the first trimester is knowing that it will end in 13 weeks. One of the things that gets you through the painful final days of pregnancy is knowing you’ll soon meet your baby. You know the season will pass so you bear down, try to enjoy the silver linings of your circumstances, and wait for a better season.
If we apply that principle to other tough seasons, we can start to have hope. We may not have defined ending dates like we do in pregnancy but that doesn’t mean we can’t rest knowing that this, too, shall pass.
As you're going through your tough season, give thanks for the glimmers of light. Of course the ultimate example is Horatio being thankful that his wife was saved, despite losing all of his children. If he can do that, then in more mundane circumstances, we can definitely find things to be thankful for.
Let’s back up for a second and discuss why this is so hard sometimes. I imagine that it can feel like, if we are thankful in the midst of a storm, it looks like we aren’t acknowledging pain or heartache. Sometimes we want to wallow and gratitude takes us out of our wallow. Or if someone else is affected by the storm - our focus on gratitude can make us look insensitive. There are ways to be grateful without being insensitive. And we should weep with those who are weeping. This is an act of brotherly love. The bible says to be sorrowful but rejoicing. You can hold both of these emotions simultaneously. Sorrow is a real experience and it’s not good to gloss over it but weeping with someone does not mean that you also accompany them in pity or bitterness. Don’t cross that line. And if you’re afraid your gratitude will look insensitive, you can still practice it but keep it to yourself until a better time.
When you’re practicing gratitude, be careful not to add a “but” clause in your head. I am so guilty of this. When I was going through my ordeal, I kept saying “yeah, I’m thankful to have a home…” and would add silently in my own head “but the roof leaks.” Or “yeah, I am thankful to be pregnant…” and then think “but I can’t enjoy it because I’m working so much.” These bitter thoughts will steal your joy. Have your gratitude with no buts.
I can think of so many things to be grateful for in the midst of challenging times if I try. This requires being present and looking outside of yourself. If you focus on how you feel, you will cross into the territory of self-pity. Instead, open your eyes and look around you. Take a deep breath and count your blessings. Where are you? In bed? In a car? Are you warm and dry? Check. That’s a huge blessing. So many people aren’t. Do you have any actions you can take to try to change your circumstances? Check. That’s a blessing. That means you aren’t totally stuck. Do you have someone to love or a family that loves you? Check and check. In my case of going through pregnancy while working too much and owning two homes, I’m afraid I didn’t really focus on gratitude. I focused on myself and the negativity I was feeling. I wanted to sit in my wallow. I didn’t stop to be grateful that I was successfully pregnant and carrying a child to term with a husband who supported me. I didn’t celebrate small successes along the way like learning how to tile (and doing a great job at it). I celebrated when the season passed but, while going through it, I was sour and anxious, which is helpful to precisely no one.
Being grateful for things and finding cause for celebration during tough times doesn’t override the reality of your circumstances. It doesn’t ignore problems or make them disappear. But the fresh and lightened perspective will increase your joy and reduce your anxiety. You might be surprised how much more surmountable your problems seem when you don’t let them weigh you down as much. Maybe Christmas is a fitting time to find a cause to celebrate. You can remove yourself from the hardships of this year and count your blessings.
One of the things I’m most grateful for are lessons learned. I strongly encourage you when in the midst of a storm to look for a lesson. Pride can make this hard. No matter who you are, you have pride. Pride makes us feel like we don’t deserve to be in a tough season. That bad things don’t happen to good people so we shouldn’t have to look for lessons in the midst of hard times. Only bad people need to learn something, right? Only people who deserve what’s coming to them have to worry about personal growth, right? Wrong. If you think that you never deserve a hard season and have nothing to learn from it, then you risk a contentious life where you fight everything that comes to you. You’ll fight things you can’t change, assume you were never meant to endure hard times, and become bitter. But if you look for the lesson, you not only reduce your stress by eliminating the bitterness and hardship of battle, but you will actually come out stronger on the other side. You’ll come out smarter. That’s the best case scenario of a tough season - being equipped to avoid or overcome the next tough season.
Look back on your toughest times in life. It’s likely that these are the times you grew the most and learned the most. I’m not crazy about the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” but it might be more apt to say “what pushes you to your limits equips you for the future.” You come out wiser, stronger, and more prepared.
Similar to lessons, you might find opportunities. Age has advanced my perspective here. The older I get and the more storms I experience, the more I can clearly see in hindsight how each low point brought me to a specific place and had a purpose. It is easier with time to see storms and the seasons that follow as opportunities.
I just spoke with someone this week who had always loved food and traveling and even went to culinary school, but couldn’t find a way to make a career in food work. So instead, she worked in marketing for years until earlier this year when the pandemic caused her company to do layoffs. Suddenly, without a job and with no leads, she took a leap of faith and turned her dream into reality. She started a food and travel company wherein she introduces people to cuisine from around the world and, after the pandemic, hopes to include international retreats. Her business is already blowing up. She seized opportunity in the midst of a storm. If you keep your head down in the midst of a storm, you might miss opportunities as they fly right by you.
It’s like the doctor in This Is Us says in the very first episode after Jack and Rebecca lose one of their babies: “Take the sourest lemon that life has to offer and turn it into something resembling lemonade.”
Finally, I have the least popular tip I could possibly give. Stop complaining. Just stop. Try acceptance. You’re already going through a tough season so complaining won’t stop it from happening or from worsening. It will hurt you though. You’ll stay bitter. Bitterness is the enemy of contentment and joy. It will also make people want to spend less time around you. No one likes to be around a complainer. People who bring negativity permeate the air with their stink. Complaining is a way of letting your circumstances control you. You can accept a tough season without bending to it.
I talk about this notion of objective acceptance in episode 1 - it’s about being unemotional and objective in your response. Accept things and then decide to react well. Some of the objective things I like to say are things like “I know that this hard thing is happening to me. I don’t know why. But I will push through it and come out wiser.”
I find that, if I practice the previous tips - having hope that the season will end, being thankful for glimmers of light in the midst of storms, and looking for lessons and opportunities - then I rarely feel the need to complain.
Merry Christmas, everyone! I will see you next week.
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