How heroes endure hard times

by | December 23, 2013

When I was a child, my father worked back-breaking, miserable night shifts swinging a pick in a gold mine.

A small headlamp in his hardhat provided but meager light in the pitch black shaft. He had to wear rain gear because water poured out of cracks in the rocks from underground springs. He waded through knee-deep water from one post to the next.

The incessant, bone-jarring, earth-shattering noise from jackhammers gave him headaches. He choked on the nasty mist created from the vegetable oil they used to lubricate the jackhammers. He fought claustrophobia. The hefty pick got heavier with each mind-numbing swing.

He once told me that the only way he could get through his shifts was to dedicate each swing of the pick to one of his children.

“This one’s for Cathy.” Swing. Clank.
“This one’s for Jimmy.” Swing. Clank.
“This one’s for Lori.” Swing. Clank.

And so on through each of his thirteen children, and so on through one hellacious night after another.

He had discovered the truth revealed by Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning,

“A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how.'”

Viktor explains by telling the story of an elderly doctor who came to consult with him.

The man could not overcome the loss of his wife who had died two years before.

Viktor asked him, “What would have happened if you had died first, and your wife would have had to survive you?”

“Oh,” the doctor answered, “for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!”

“You see, Doctor,” Viktor replied, “such a suffering has been spared her, and it was you who have spared her this suffering — to be sure, at the price that now you have to survive and mourn her.”

The doctor shook Viktor’s hand and calmly left his office without another word.

The most effective way to find meaning in your life is to transform your personal pain into a responsibility to humanity.

Was it my father’s personal mission to work in a mine? Not at all — it was to raise a family. Knowing his inspiring “why,” he could endure that awful “how.”

And so it is with you.

You may have lost your job in the recession. Perhaps you’ve lost someone close to you.

Whatever hard times you’re enduring, ponder these questions:

  • Who will benefit from what I’m going through now?
  • Who needs me to endure this time with faith, fortitude, and courage?
  • Who will suffer if I fail this test? What will be the long-term consequences in their lives if I fail?
  • How can I turn this experience into service for others?
  • What lessons will this teach me that I can later use to create value for others?
  • How can my suffering help me make a greater difference in the world?

Because of her experience in slavery, Harriet Tubman helped set up and operate the Underground Railroad to help slaves escape to freedom.

Because she was deeply affected by seeing mentally handicapped children suffer in institutions, Marie Montessori was inspired to create a revolution in education.

Your pain produces the seed of greatness. But that seed cannot germinate until you leverage your pain to serve others.

Vess Barnes wrote that the purpose of life is,

“To encourage, to comfort, to awaken, and to stretch those who find themselves riding this big ball as it screams thru time in the silence of space. To be a bridge, not a barricade. To be a link, not a lapse. To be a beacon and a bolster; not a bragger or a bummer. To help bring the corners of life’s lips to their summit. To be a friend to those who find their fit a little awkward in this chaos society calls living.”

With every exhausting swing of a heavy pick in dark, dank, and dirty mine shaft, my father built a bridge for his children.

Like my father’s pick, you too have crosses to bear. How and for whom can you use your crosses to build bridges?

(For more tools to find meaning and purpose in your life, click here to download my free toolkit now.)

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