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Suffering is the Middle School of Life: Painful but Necessary

Doesn’t it seem like everyone has more challenges lately? Our thirteen-year-old daughter thinks so. She says she has no one to sit with at lunch. She wishes she knew exactly what to say to get the other kids to like her. And I feel her pain. I remember those days. Can’t we fast-forward middle school for her? Can’t we shortcut her suffering and get right to the learning?

There is no shortcut. Suffering is the middle school of life. We cannot go straight from elementary school innocence to high school swagger without the pain of those years in between. We have to go through middle school. We can better it, sure. But we cannot skip it all together. 

My friend, Deb Rubin, who leads fabulous mother-daughter workshops, insists that middle school is supposed to be difficult. “It’s about learning to deal with discomfort. When your child comes home complaining about not having anyone to sit with at lunch, the only thing you can do is be curious. You cannot fix it. You can show up confident that things will change. You can relax because you understand that discomfort is a necessary part of the growth process. Then you can ask questions that help her to identify and feel her feelings. How is that for you? Tell me what you are feeling. Oh ouch, how did you respond? 

We have to stop wishing discomfort away. We have to give up the false idea that others have it easier than us. Not to mention, we need to let go of the false hope that if we just knew the right way to behave, we’d have it easy too. Far better to put our challenges on the table, under a bright light, to look and feel them.

This week, our family went on a short retreat and did a small fire ceremony. We wrote down what Fear was saying to us on small slips of paper. Then we burned them. It felt great. Since then, I keep talking back to Fear, the voice in my head. I say, Thank you for your concern, but I am built for this. Life is about facing tough challenges, not running from them. We are all hard wired for resilience. We just don’t trust that truth. 

I feel all of you in my corner. I’m in your corner, too. And I can relax knowing that our daughter’s challenges are building her up, making her stronger, and helping her to discover who she is. She is built for this. We all are.

Surgery challenge accepted. I’ll return home in a month different, but better.