As spring approaches, it is a natural time to think about rebirth. But with the lingering darkness of winter, I can’t help but think of the times when newness has not emerged. When it feels as though atrophy is more defining than change.
How do we address the areas where we long for change? The places that we continually visit in our hearts and in our relationships?
A common perspective is to simply ‘get over it’. There is a warning associated with this idea: ‘If you dwell in the past, you will sink into despair’. The problem is that by leaving moments of heartache alone, the feelings from these experiences don’t leave, we simply have to find ways to distract ourselves from their presence. This can lead to a generalized anxiety or depression, as we find that our search for meaning begins to fade under the pursuit of distraction.
In my own life, I can have difficulty developing healthy boundaries with friends. I find myself caught in the web of others’ desires, and tend to perceive their emotional needs even if they aren’t expressed. I may later realize that I had spent a significant amount of time letting a friend vent about a difficult experience, even when I didn’t have the time or energy to provide this support. Rather than being honest about my needs, I felt responsible to listen, and even guilty when thinking about ‘abandoning’ them in the moment.
If I push past these moments, I experience a gradual loss of hope that I could ever set boundaries with these friends. And if I keep distracting myself with other things, I lose track of where the hopeless feeling came from in the first place.
This is the point when I am most likely to feel stuck. Where do I go from here?
When we stop and reflect on moments of pain or loss, we begin to outline the contours of what we long for. We can start asking ourselves important questions. Why was this a painful moment? What would it have been like to try something new? How do our behaviors impact our potential for change and growth?
These acts of reflection create monuments in our memory. We inscribe hopes, desires, and feelings, and place them in the landscape of our lives. They do not remain as markers of failure, where we linger in despair, but as ornate memorials where we rightly grieve the loss of what did not come to pass. It is here that we can lay these painful moments to rest, allowing us to step back into our lives and move forward with an evolving understanding of the path toward change.
When we reflect on moments of loss, we also honor our attempts at creation. We affirm our desires and take them out of hiding. The visibility of our desires reminds us of what we hope for in our lives. And when we finally experience one of those sweet moments of newness, however small, the impact becomes exponential. We have a context within which to view these moments, and we cannot stop the bubbling surge of celebration.
Building these monuments are some of our greatest acts of hope. They remind us that in each of these varied moments, in our pain and in our joy, our dignity and value remain.