I wouldn't be allowed to call myself a writer if cliches didn't irritate me, but I reserve a special kind of irritation for cliches that masquerade as "inspiration" or "motivation." The ones that get tossed around by people looking for a way out of their own discomfort at someone else's discomfort.
Basically, "I will feel better if you just don't feel whatever you're feeling right now. So remember: this too shall pass and it's happening for a reason and suffering is optional. Now...don't you feel better??"
(Hint: the only correct answer is "yes.")
Almost equally annoying, though, is the fact that these cliches are true. If they weren't, they would never have attained cliche status, and they wouldn't annoy me in the least. Undeniably, at the heart of these overused phrases there's wisdom, ancient spiritual truths that have emerged from countless cultures and religious traditions. The cliche attempts to distill these bigger truths into simple one-liners, the blessing and the curse of which is obvious. Yes, there's an elegance to their simplicity and succinctness. But truth is never a one-size-fits-all proposition.
It's not a quick fix.
It doesn't fit into a soundbite.
With each cliche that's come my way, I've gone through phases of buying-in, questioning, rejecting, believing, and dismissing. I've used them as weapons against what I was experiencing (and encouraged others to do the same) in an attempt to short-circuit my feelings and natural human reactions. It was only when I stopped doing that and started living into what I was experiencing that the wisdom contained in the words was able to come through, always in a most unexpected way.
Time and again, I've been caught off guard by outbursts of insight that have come from nowhere to rescue these platitudes from the brink of meaninglessness, transforming them into the kind of knowing that goes beyond believing.
Take for example:
I've never found much comfort in these words when in the midst of a challenging situation. In fact, they usually set off an internal monologue along these lines:
"Oh, really...this too shall pass? And when do you suppose that will happen?? And what is it going to pass into, exactly??? And, even if it's true that at some unknown point in the future, in some undefined way this too shall pass, how does that change the reality of the crappy situation that IS right now????"
(Sarcasm is my internal voice's specialty.)
Ironically, the circumstances of my life were anything but challenging the moment this phrase graduated from being four worn-out words strung together into a truth embedded into the very fiber of my being. In fact, I was deliriously happy at the time. I had just won the lottery.
(Okay, that's a lie...I don't remember why I was so happy, I just recall it was a "just won the lottery" kind of happy.)
From that place of joy came a sudden, penetrating awareness that this happiness was not going to last. Not in a "poor me, nothing good ever lasts" or a "if it's going well something's bound to go wrong" kind of way, but in a very matter-of-fact, EVERYTHING-really-IS-temporary kind of way.
Yes...this too shall pass.
I recognized clearly the choice this new understanding was presenting me with. From a human perspective, accepting the impermanence of all things is a sure formula for absolute despair. In order to accept that nothing lasts forever as reassurance in times of challenge, I also have to accept it on the flip-side. I can't just take the truth and throw it out when I don't need it, when things are going well and I'd rather not contemplate endings. So if nothing - good or bad - lasts forever then what, exactly, IS the point?
That's one way to look at it.
But add in the element of faith, and it changes everything.
When my human self wants to grasp and hold on, God invites me into a deeper experience of appreciation and gratitude - for whatever I'm trying to hold onto, but also for everything that brought me to that place, and everything yet to come.
When my human self rails again situations or circumstances that I wish were not happening, God invites me into the Yes, not as a way of denying or ignoring or trying to get myself out of the painful situation, but as a way of making room for Him to be in it with me. Either way, it's happening. Either way, it's true that it won't last forever. I can choose to go it alone...or I can give it to Him, moment by moment and piece by piece.
Through the eyes of faith, this too shall pass does not mean this terrible or this wonderful thing will end. It means, you are part of something bigger, a plan with seasons and cycles and rhythms, and what is happening right now is going to evolve. So let it.
Let it be. Let it become.
Discomfort and challenge, loss and letting go are all part of the evolution of a life. Contentment and happiness are not destinations, but rather a series of rest stops along the way where I can get my bearings and get ready for whatever the next wave of discontent brings.
For as long as I'm in the process of becoming, the waves will come. Waves of desire, waves of longing, carrying me to and through the next growing phase, encouraging me to lean in to the learning, preparing me for the next this, whatever it may be.
* * * * *
Coming up in Part Two: pain is avoidable, suffering is optional. Until then, I'd love to hear your thoughts and reflections on this too shall pass, or any other cliche you particularly love or hate or love-hate.