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What to Do When You’re Stuck In the Storms of Life

No matter how bright and beautiful our life may feel, dark clouds and storms will inevitably come to all of us. We may feel dread and fear around their appearance. We may wish for them to pass and long for the warm sunny moments to return. It may feel as though the storm rages on for weeks, months or even years with no hope of relief.

The darkest moments of our lives are the ones where we tend to simply hunker down and hope for their passage. We may find ourselves asking “Why is this happening to me?” or “When will this end?”

This may feel like difficult medicine to swallow, but the storms that we are facing may be the greatest gifts that we will ever receive. They may be answers to our deepest hopes, desires and prayers.

Gleaning the lesson from the storm can only come when we accept it in our lives and when we “learn to play in the rain” by finding the hidden joy and gift it offers to us.

Life’s events, when boiled down to their essence, are merely facts that occur. A new baby is born on a wintry night. A car crashes into another vehicle on a sunny summer day. A young man is diagnosed with cancer. These are each simply facts.

We’ve all met the individual who can see only darkness in all of life’s events. Regardless of the facts and the circumstance, they can only see what’s missing and what’s awry. They seem to carry their own little storm cloud with them wherever they go.

So, it isn’t the facts that occur that determine whether we live in a storm or in sunshine. It is the meaning and expectation that we give to those facts. This truth can be one of the most liberating we ever grasp.

And, when we see that we actually create the storm by the meaning we give it, we can come to an awareness of its potential beauty and opportunity. In this moment, we feel a surrender as described by St. John of the Cross in his book Dark Night of the Soul. He says that surrender leads us to experience the feeling that we don’t want the event to end too quickly because we don’t want to miss all that it came to teach us.

In this surrender, we feel gratitude “in” our circumstance and begin to experience transformative joy as we romp and gleefully play in the rain puddles of life.

If Expectation brought the storm into our lives, Expectation can also cause it to pass.

In his book, The Power of Positive Thinking, Norman Vincent Peale dedicates a chapter to “Expecting the Best and Getting It.” He describes story after story of individuals perpetually stuck in the storms of life who changed their circumstance simply by shifting their expectations.

Here are some of Dr Peale’s most profound thoughts regarding expectation of the very best.

“It is a well-defined and authentic principle that what the mind profoundly expects it tends to receive.”

“Our belief at the beginning of a doubtful undertaking is the one thing that insures the successful outcome of your venture.”

“Things become better when you expect the best instead of the worst, for the reason that being freed from self-doubt, you can put your whole self into your endeavor, and nothing can stand in the way of the man who focuses his entire self on a problem.”

“Take the very best into your mind and only that…Make it your obsession.”

Dr. Peale also describes the necessity to become very clear on what you want. He says,

“Lots of people get nowhere simply because they do not know where they want to go. They have no clear-cut precisely defined purpose. You cannot expect the best if you think aimlessly.”

I experienced this lesson during a stormy year of my life. It was 2002. My youngest sister, with whom I was very close, was unexpectedly killed in a car accident one week before Christmas the previous year. My job felt stressful and unfulfilling. I felt a hunger for something different including a different place to live. I wanted to move away from lowlands of Louisiana to the mountains of the Carolinas and Tennessee. But, I didn’t feel very clear about much more than that and just knew that I wanted out of my current situation.

I applied to a dozen different job listings but none responded. I didn’t want to continue with my current company or to move their location in Houston, Texas. So, when a senior work colleague named Mike called me one day and asked if I would be interested in a position with my current company in Houston, I initially told him “No” but also admitted that I also wasn’t sure what I wanted.

Mike, sensing my desire to escape my current situation, said something to me that changed the course of my life. He said, “Reuben, when you’re running away from something, everything will look good. But, you will find happiness when you find something to run towards.”

I pondered this statement and his offer. I felt guided to take the step to Houston. While in Houston, I developed both the clarity of what I wanted to run towards and the experience that enabled me to be ready for that opportunity. Three years later, I moved to the Carolinas with an opportunity that was a clear fit for me and to a location that brought me closer to family and eventually enabled me to meet my wife and children. Being clear on what I was running towards helped me to find happiness in the storm and to eventually witness its passage.

Do you know what you’re running towards?

I love the children’s book, What Do You Do with a Problem? By Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom. In language that even a small child can understand, he teaches us how we can learn to “Play in the rain” of our most challenging problems.

Another book that I love on this subject is entitled The Lesson. The young character in this book, whose name is Robert, attends school and is excited to solve a simple math problem. As he solves problems, he continues to move up grades. The “teacher” continues giving him more problems that increase with difficulty and complexity. Robert asks, “Why are you punishing me with these problems?” The teacher replies, “Oh, Robert, I am not punishing you. It’s just that you have moved up a grade and are ready for harder problems.”

As we progress through the story, we realize that Robert’s problems are the real problems of life that continue until his final day in school. It is here that, “Suddenly he realized that all the lessons he had been learning all his life had really been only one lesson, that all the problems he had been working on all his life had really been only one problem – this problem: Robert how much do you love?”

In every storm and challenge we face, there is always the opportunity to grow in unconditional love for ourselves, for others and for God. In the storm, we become more aware of our humanity and the humanity of our fellow travelers. We see opportunities to give our lives to others in a way that makes the sun shine brighter for the world in which we live.

As we seek to find joy in the storm, we can take counsel from The Course of Miracles,

“I am here only to be truly helpful. I am here to represent the one who sends me. I don’t have to worry about what to say or what to do because the one who sends me will direct me. I am content to go where I am directed.”

Sometimes we may find ourselves directed into others’ storms. We can find our greatest joy in life by walking with them and bringing them hope. We can be a light and an example to others as we find the opportunity in the storms of life and truly learn to“Play in the Rain.”

Contributing Author: Reuben Aiton

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