Susan Steen (2)

Steen

“What stands in the way becomes the way.”  — Marcus Aurelius

Standing on the hillside, she could see a very long distance. In fact, she could see another hill just across the way. Lo and behold, there was the building she was trying to reach. Wrong hill. Or was it?

Between this hill and that was a large valley. The houses looked so tiny in what appeared to be such a quaint village — the green landscape spotted with cattle and sheep, barns and ponds. It didn’t look so difficult to cross from up there, but as she began to make her way to it, she could see the briars, mud, and well-meaning people whose paths she must cross.

She looked behind her and realized there was no way to go back up the hill. She would have to press on through the valley if she wanted to reach that building. As Aurelius duly noted, what stands in the way becomes the way.

Heading out to take pictures, I’ll often throw my rain boots in the car with my gear these days. In the past, there were too many beautiful shots I missed because I didn’t want to ruin my shoes. As my Eagle Scout husband has been telling me for more than 30 years, Be Prepared (for all the surprises, I would add). I’ve learned to be prepared and sometimes even embrace leaving the comfort of the hillside to experience all the valley holds.

Recently, I wrote of the importance of being a helper and remarked on my own tendency to be a rescuer. Where do you fall in those categories?

Do you see yourself as a helper or a rescuer? Helpers seem to have an innate sense of the value of the valley while rescuers do not. Maybe it’s because we went through the valley and wish those we love could avoid similar pain and hardship. Think of our valley stories, though — did you eat beans and rice or mac and cheese for weeks until the next paycheck? Did you work three jobs and get home just in time to rock the baby to sleep?

Maybe your valley story is how you used to walk to school 10 miles in the snow. Whatever your memories of the valleys, we’ve all experienced them, and they usually provide wonderful stories to tell later. Rescuers seem to think that preventing someone else from the pain and discomfort will be good, but instead, we are really taking away the value of someone else’s valley.

What do you consider to be a valley? you might ask.

The loss of a loved one. Whether the love of your life walks away or dies, you land in that valley and sometimes have to crawl out. You can’t magically find yourself in the “things are great again” hilltop without a lot of time and effort.  Personal troubles we bring on ourselves that we might have avoided are painful and often humiliating, and so difficult to climb out of often because others try to keep us down.

Success issues like losing a job, failing classes are especially hard if you can look back and see what you could have done differently. You could have worked harder, shown more respect to your employer, studied harder, partied less.

In marriage, there are times you might disagree, you might fear you’ll never work it out, or think you just don’t “get” the other person. In parenting, there are times you wonder if you are doing things wrong — your children experience failure, and you wonder if it’s your fault. In growing up, there are times you think no one likes you, people like someone else more, or that you’ll never catch that guy or girl’s eye.

When your words and actions on social media live on in screenshots, they haunt you and are thrown in your face in your darkest moments, it seems. These are all valleys.

It’s going to be uncomfortable, but denying someone the dignity of the going through the valley says more about your lack of faith in the person than their ability to survive the struggles.

When you look at where you are and realize you are in a valley, it helps to have a few ideas in mind for how you’ll handle it.

  • · Don’t panic.
  • · Recognize where you are.
  • · Think through your options.
  • · Know you won’t die (unless you are stuck in a desert valley with no water).

You know the valley is coming eventually, and I think it helps to be prepared. So, know the truth about valleys:

1) They are more comfortable and attractive when viewed from the hilltop you’ve finally reached.

2) They can be messy (it’s why I bring boots).

3) They are unavoidable at some point.

4) They can be beneficial for the rest of your life.

5) They don’t have to be traveled alone; you can ask for help.

6) They won’t last forever.

Not one time have I come out of the valley thinking, “Wow, I’d like to do that again,” but I’ve learned from every trip. Losing my father was something I couldn’t control, that valley was rather forced on me. Finding myself in poor health because I didn’t take time to take care of myself puts me in a valley I could have avoided.

Whatever happens, let’s stop blaming the valleys for our discomfort in life and instead focus on growing stronger while we’re there. Allow what appears to be in your way to become your way to a better place.

Recommended for you