I am a new day rising
I’m a brand new sky
To hang the stars upon tonight
I am a little divided
Do I stay or run away
And leave it all behind?
It’s times like these you learn to live again
It’s times like these you give and give again
It’s times like these you learn to love again
It’s times like these time and time again
(Foo Fighters, “Times Like These”)
When you have four boys in three different schools, this is the season of back-to-school nights, meeting new teachers, putting school supplies in desks and piling boxes of tissues on low tables in elementary classrooms for future use in the coming cold months. Within the span of 2 weeks, Jennifer and/or I will have attended a freshman orientation and three back-to-school nights.
So, early this week I found myself sitting in an advanced math class where a teacher was explaining that this class was for students who have shown they excel at math and therefore will be moving through math concepts at a quicker pace. She explained that some student won’t be able to sustain the pace and will have to drop out. And then she said to us:
The kids in this room have always been at the top of their class in math. And this class will most likely be uncomfortable for them because they’ve never struggled before with math concepts. Up until now, it’s all come easy to them. But this experience will be good for them.
Do you catch that? Sometimes, it’s good to feel off-balanced and unsure of yourself. Sometimes we need to feel like we’re in over our heads, like we don’t know what to do next in order to move on. Sometimes we need the (over)confidence to diminish and we need to feel like we’re drowning in order to learn how to really swim.
I remember a couple of year ago, when I signed up for my first marathon, I felt like I was in way over my head. So, I did when I usually do when I feel off-balance: I bought a book on running and I studied it and I talked to my brother (the real runner in the family) about running a lot. And I just took it one run at a time, and I trusted his advice and the training plan I was following. It was uncomfortable not to know what to do. But these days, I don’t hesitate to sign up for long race, or engage in a long-term training plan, or coach a friend. It’s all kind of automatic now. I’ve gained a competence that started with disequilibrium.
Yeah, I know, the way life goes, we don’t always get to choose when we’re going to feel off-balanced; sometimes it just happens TO us, ya know? Occasionally we choose a new hobby, or set off on a new career path or start a new relationship and it’s discombobulating, but we knew it would be from the start (like taking an advanced math class.) But more often it seems, we get fired, dumped, lost or depressed and we didn’t ask for it, we didn’t see it coming.
But it’s in times like these where you learn to live, love and give again (thanks Foos). Really. It’s in times like these – where you feel lost – where you reassess big questions about your life, “who am I?,” “what is my life about?,” “who are ‘my people’?” Actually, it might be more accurate to say, it’s only in times like these that we’re OPEN to facing these kinds of questions. When life is all blue sky, we don’t tend to embrace this kind of existential dialogue – at least not with the same fervency and intensity.
And in time, you will find your way. I promise you that you will. And you will be stronger for it. But first, you have to steer into the darkness. You have to embrace it, question it, deal with it. You have to name it and befriend it. You have to talk about it, write about it, paint it, sing it, scream it and cry over it. Only then will you settle into it. Only then, will you learn the new math, learn the new training regimen, learn the new career, learn the new relationship. And you will thrive because you went through a season of feeling uncomfortable and you owned it and you grew.
So, here’s to the seasons where we don’t have it all figured out. Here’s to the times in our lives where we feel off-balance, unsure of our purpose, goals, careers, or friendships. Here’s to finding our way and to learning what it means to live and love again.