Challenging situations – How to respond spiritually?

challengingLife can be a pain. You may have to deal with difficult people, stressful circumstances, conflicting ideals, and ethical dilemmas. Feeling tested by a life that is challenging is not pleasant to experience but rather unsettling. People often struggle inwardly when they are obliged to face their own human limitations

I would suggest that you can usually choose between five types of response to each thing life throws up at you: these options are avoidance, passivity, assertion, forcefulness or collaboration.

Avoidance of challenging situations

Negative results of avoidance come to mind. You may avoid bumping into that insulting neighbour but lose self-confidence as a result. Not reading that threatening letter from the bank means you may have to eventually pay higher interest repayments as a consequence. Staying at home rather going to that stressful job can result in a redundancy.

There can be positive consequences too. I remember going home by a different school exit and path to avoid a much bigger boy who I had inadvertently annoyed in class. He had said he was ‘out to get’ me. The notion that discretion is the better part of valour proved correct on this occasion. By the next school day he had forgotten his wish to hurt me.

You do well to avoid situations where you might yield to temptation. Places like amusement arcades, bookies or casinos if you wish to resist wasting money on compulsive gambling. Or red light districts if you as a man have an unwanted tendency towards sexual licence.

Passive response to challenging situations

Negative examples of passive behaviour are remaining silent when unfairly criticised, never saying no to demands to work unpaid overtime, acting as a long-suffering partner to one’s spouses infidelity.

Another example of negative passivity is praying for God to do something miraculous whilst doing nothing to try to make things better oneself.

On the other hand, being passive may be the best response in some circumstances. When your country has been invaded, you may do well to live life as best as you can collaborating if necessary for the time being with the new powers in the land.

Meditation, although a passive activity, involves the effort of self-discipline. It is not an immediate response to a challenging situation but it prepares you for adopting the appropriate response. This is a positive passive endeavour. In responding to life’s challenges we need to enhance our inner life and this is an important practice for a growing number of people.

One important aspect of enhancing one’s inner life is adopting a mindful attitude to what is going on around you. This reaction is passive in the sense it is firstly about what goes on inside our heads.

Assertive response to challenging situations

Sometimes in life we need to stand up for what we believe in and value. It might be refusing to do what others want, criticising someone’s behaviour, or asking for help. Speaking up rather than keeping your thoughts to yourself.

When dealing with such circumstances, one soon discovers one’s own human weaknesses or apparent limitations. Part of us wants to blame someone when things go pear shaped. Impatience, intolerance, anger soon come to the surface.

When we only are considering our own feelings, can’t it be easy for a difference of opinion to degenerate into a stand-up row with raised voices and glaring expressions?

The assertive type of response may mean arguing your point but doing this by showing respect, neither interrupting nor speaking unnecessarily loudly. So to do use this type of response to a challenging situation is to offer your point of view without insisting you are right and the other fellow is wrong, however certain you might feel.

Forceful response to challenging situations

Not all forcefulness is bad. In the film ‘The Good Lie’ some older children escape after their families and village are massacred during the Second Sudanese Civil War. After numerous days of walking in the wilderness they find themselves without food miles from anywhere. Coming across a leopard eating its kill they bravely rush towards it aggressively making a lot of noise and waving their arms and are able to capture the dead deer for their own meal and survival.

Life can be a struggle at times, and the struggle can be with oneself. The way I see it, to find the better person within, you will first need to fight against negative tendencies within yourself, and to curb unsatisfactory impulses, whether they be fear, greed, or anger. Don’t we all need to accept the reality of our shadowy side and conquer it? In other words one’s lower nature has to be repudiated before the higher self can properly emerge. To gain the positive, one needs to battle against the negative.

Collaborative response to challenging situations

When need one use a collaborative response? However hard we try to fight what we don’t like in ourselves, we often lose the battle. I would suggest that combating difficulties, through one’s own efforts alone, is bound to fail. Entering into psychological therapy for past personal trauma is a positive and brave step. It requires cooperation between client and therapist as they work together in tackling emotional pain and disturbance. This means a collaborative relationship is needed.

A collaborative approach to prayer is asking for support and strength needed to deal with problems oneself. I would suggest that dealing with a spiritual challenge requires collaboration with the Divine Being. Not giving in to our weakness whilst at the same time humbly submitting to divine power.

Conclusion about responding to challenging situations

Each type of response to challenging events can be positive or negative, helpful or unhelpful, according to the specific circumstances.  One can feel less confused if one finds some sort of lesson or meaning in adversity. Seeing a way forward through these testing times can give hope and a sense of equilibrium.

Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

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