Recently I had opportunity to meet with someone I’ve not seen for about 12 years. When he saw me, he smiled and said, “You look great! Life has been good to you.”
It has? I was under the impression that life has been a mixed bag of stress, joy, and deep disappointment, with a dash of happiness thrown in for flavor. At first I thought this was just a social pleasantry, but considering this man’s professional expertise and history with my family, I knew he meant what he said.
When he saw my hesitation, he continued, “I can tell when I see people’s faces.” I told him I was glad at least one other person could see how awesome I am. We both laughed. The conversation moved on and the rest of the visit went fine, but that first little exchange got stuck in my head.
“Life’s been good to you.” Really? It irritated me, but why? After rolling it around in my head for a while, I realized what really bothered me. That short little phrase seemed to minimize two things: the pain in my past, and the colossal amount of work I put into overcoming that pain. Saying “life’s been good to you” makes it seem like life’s been easy, as if I spend my days in a cabana next to the ocean, or that having a career and a good marriage just…happened.
My heart of hearts wanted to say, “Are you kidding? I left a lot of sweat and blood on that battlefield and took away plenty dirt and scars.” In the end, I realized that the phrase triggered my defensiveness. All of the sudden I felt like I needed to prove myself. I had to prove that my life was more than ocean breeze and lazy sunsets. At the deepest level, I was afraid that I wasn’t good enough and this random interaction somehow proved it. Can you relate?
Well, now that I understood the problem, I had a choice. Do I dwell on my fear, pouring gas on the fire like I used to? Or do I practice a new and better way? After fighting the temptation to “do what’s familiar”, I chose to let the fear flow through and past me, like a river. Wait…what? Yes, I let it flow past because after I let go of fear, letting it pass, I find that little else remains except truth. Think about it. What happens when a friend jumps out at you from around the corner? There is a brief freak-out moment, followed by laughter because you remember you are safe when the fear passes. What about when you take a time-out during a fight with your spouse? The anger (which is usually fueled by fear) has time to pass and clarity of thought is restored. Truth is almost always found after fear has gone. How did I let my fear pass? For me, it was simple: Breathe deep and slow at least three times (more if needed) and visualize fear being replaced by peace and question marks being replaced by periods. Once my fear was gone, the truth could be restored.
What was the truth that needed to be restored? The truth that I was, and am, enough. The truth that a little phrase didn’t change me, my past, or my value.
In the end, that old friend saw something good in my face. He described it the best he knew how, but I know a better way. The truth is that, it’s not life that has been good to me, but that I have been good to life.