For quite awhile I’ve been mulling over the concept that obstacles are placed in our path for a reason. It could be to slow us down so that we are forced to take more time to think or it could be to teach us a difficult lesson or to know ourselves better. Maybe we are just supposed to find a different approach. I see God’s hand in this but, you don’t have to believe in God to understand what I’m getting at.
The first obstacles are placed in front of us by our parents. We want to do something or go somewhere and we are told we can’t. Kids react in different ways to restrictions imposed by their parents. Some have temper tantrums, some become argumentative, others sulk or cry. Eventually, most kids learn that certain behaviors can win favor and others cause more restrictions to be heaped on them. In general, most kids eventually understand the reasons for the obstacles their parents have constructed. They want us to be safe, to learn self-control, responsibility, and that our actions have consequences.
When we become independent adults the obstacles we confront are no longer placed there by our parents but are we able to stand back and see them as “teaching moments”? Speaking for myself, the answer to that is no. In fact, it is only very recently that I started seeing things in a different light and realized that some obstacles that frustrated me in the past ended up actually helping me. Maybe if you strongly desire something and, no matter what you do, you just can’t achieve or obtain it you should stop pushing and take some time to analyze the situation. Maybe what you’re working so hard at is actually not the right path for you and that is why you keep failing.
I can apply this concept to several times in my life when I railed against what I perceived as an obstacle. For example, on two occasions I believed that a relationship with a particular man was what I needed. In hindsight I can clearly see that marriage to either of those men would have been disastrous for me so now I’m grateful for the obstacles that prevented that from happening. At the time I was frustrated and broken-hearted but, in reality, I wasn’t ready to be a partner in a healthy, stable relationship and neither were the men to whom I was attracted. The disappointment I experienced from those failed relationships led me on a journey of self-discovery that helped me to become a stronger more centered person. Those obstacles ended up teaching me a lot but I couldn’t see that when I was going through it.
Another example: a few years ago I was very restless and I wanted to move but two big obstacles were in my way. First, my mother didn’t want to move and I wouldn’t leave her alone and second, the housing market tanked and I couldn’t sell my house without losing a lot of money. Considering how restless I felt at the time, I probably would have sold the house despite losing money if I had been willing to leave my mother. It would have been an impulsive, poorly thought out decision. I was frustrated by my inability to move and often felt trapped, which led to periodic bouts of depression. Once again, I was pushing against the obstacles instead of trying to understand why they were placed in my way. Fast forward about six years and I now see that those obstacles prevented me from hurting myself financially – not a smart thing to do in your late 50’s! I wanted to retire at 60 so I had to face the fact that any impulsive moves would ruin that dream. Once I retired I also gave up on trying to convince my mother to move because I could see it would make her unhappy. I admit, sometimes I resented having to give up on an idea that seemed so important to me at the time but now I’m glad for the obstacles that prevented me from moving because I can appreciate the value of having a home which I can comfortably afford on my retirement income. Also, if I had been able to move when I wanted to I’m sure I would still be working! I could cite many more examples but I think you get the idea.
I was hesitant to write about what I have learned from obstacles in my life because I recently started volunteering for Haven Hospice doing pet therapy visits with my dog, Liberty, and the experience has shown me that the obstacles I have dealt with so far are nothing compared to what so many people are facing and what I may also have to face someday. Would I still be able to think there is something to learn from an obstacle if I was confined to a bed or a wheelchair? What if the “obstacle” is that I had lost all my independence and everything that was important to me and I only had a few months to live? I don’t know. I was afraid that it might sound like self-indulgent clap trap to write about learning from obstacles but I decided that I wanted to share these thoughts because, in the end, they may have value to someone who is currently facing an obstacle.
I know now that I have learned from the obstacles in my life to be more grateful for my blessings, more appreciative of my surroundings and more thoughtful in my decisions. I have learned from obstacles that so much of the quality of my life is dependent on the way I think and react. Maybe those are the lessons that will serve me best in facing whatever obstacles, large or small, I will confront in the future.
I’m convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. ~Charles R. Swindoll
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