If you’d like to listen to this article, you can find the audio here: New Perspectives on Overcoming Challenges – 4 Audio Posts
When I pictured myself becoming a mother, this is the nursery I envisioned:
However, my husband and I decided to start our family soon after we got married–while we were finishing up our Bachelor’s degrees–and our first nursery wasn’t even a nursery at all.
We simply put our baby Alia to sleep in her stroller and parked it in various corners of our one-bedroom student apartment–depending on which space we were going to utilize as we studied, got ready for the day, and prepared for our future together.
Sometimes we had to park the stroller in our only bathroom…with the brakes set and a pillow against the counter so she wouldn’t kick her way out:
Not exactly like I imagined.
It was quite a gap between what I wanted, and what I actually had.
This story also reminds me of a time I desperately needed a Halloween costume when I was 11 years old.
My older, taller, beautiful sister Page looked like this (a flapper girl from the 1920s):
I remember going into my mom’s room the night before our Halloween carnival and complaining that I didn’t have anything to wear.
“Oh, April,” she said reassuringly, “You don’t need to worry one bit. I just found a book at the library that shows you how to make dozens of costumes with only a white bed sheet!”
This is what her “magic” created:
When I came across that picture the other day while I was visiting my parents, I laughed so hard that my stomach started to cramp.
I remembered how my mom used pink yarn to “stitch” the top of the sheet and how she stuffed crumpled newspapers inside to give the costume that bulky look. I remembered how it started to rain, and the ink from the newspaper bled through the sheet. I remembered comparing myself to my sister and wondering why I was so very awkward.
I mean, seriously…
The gap is clear.
(My children have been laughing with me about this all week.)
So why am I sharing these stories?
I’ve come to realize that every single one of us feels multiple gaps in our lives. We want to have, do, or be something better than we are, and when the results don’t come as quickly as we’d like–or when they seem completely out of our grasp, we become frustrated or discouraged.
These kinds of feelings aren’t limited to our youth. In fact, I think the gaps start to feel more and more painful as we age (mid-life crisis, anyone?) because instead of comforting ourselves with words like, “Oh, we’ll get to it someday,” or “Maybe once we’re older, we’ll have x, y, and z,” we start to feel like we’ve totally missed the boat, and there isn’t time left to make up for our lives of “failures.”
Well, that kind of thinking not only isn’t helpful, but it isn’t true, and if we want to move forward with the time we have available to us in this life, we’ve got to replace those thoughts with something better.
Here are three ideas:
(1) When we wisely persist in pursuing well-selected goals, we will see progress.
I know it feels like a snail’s crawl most days, but when I consider the two stories I shared above and look at what has actually come to pass in my life, the progress is clear.
Our daughter Alia has grown into an intelligent, beautiful, loving young lady.
She doesn’t remember sleeping in our bathroom, she doesn’t complain about the “sad, sorry way” she was welcomed into her new home and family, and once she got her own bedroom as a teenager, she created this beautiful space that lifts me every time I see it:
That gap is closing.
And what about Halloween?
I grew up and became “the mom” and decided to avoid the white bed sheets when it was time to come up with some costumes. Although my husband wasn’t as thrilled as I was (that was the last time I made him dress up), I created a “royal family” that made me smile.
(2) While the process might be hard sometimes, we’re becoming someone better.
These gaps we see in our lives may drive us crazy, but think about what they motivate us to do: move forward in our careers, spend extra time reading stories to our children, try out new recipes, go on a date with our spouse, and open our hearts to God, to name a few.
As Eric and I were talking about this the other day, he said, “I wouldn’t give up what our challenges have helped us to become. What if everything had come easy for us? What if we never had to struggle or work long hours or put in so much energy to build our family and all the good things we have in our lives today? In His wisdom, through all the challenges and opportunities, the Lord has been good to us.”
There are many times I would have gladly opted for an easier course, but in hindsight, the gaps in my life have been the catalysts for creating or attaining everything that really matters to me.
(3) When we define happiness accurately, we realize it’s closer than it seems.
This is one of our favorite definitions of happiness:
Our wants are going to change. That’s a given.
(I’m not concerned about my home decor or my Halloween costumes anymore.)
To be clear, being happy with what we have doesn’t mean that we’re okay with mediocrity. It’s not a cop-out or a justification for “just being great with our life” and never reaching for something more.
But if I can shift my thinking and spend more time appreciating my precious family, my incredible mentors, my safe home, and, yes, the gaps I experience, I think that’s a pretty solid recipe for a happy, productive, wonderful life–one that continues to get better with effort, time, and Divine help.
LEARN: How have you come to appreciate (and close) the gaps in your life?
DO (and BECOME): Take a couple of minutes to apply the ideas from this post by writing down three of the most apparent gaps you are dealing with and what those gaps are inspiring you to change and improve in your life. Whenever you start to feel discouraged about your “lack of progress” in those areas, review your notes and recommit to your plan of action.