The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. – Elizabeth Kubler Ross

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  James 1: 2-4

A couple of years ago, I was moving through yet another life challenge, and I was musing out loud about the positive growth and benefits I would receive after, as a result of it. An exasperated family member swiveled around and clucked, “Why do you always have to get something from it? Why does it just not suck??!”

I will be honest – I never enjoy these opportunities for character enhancement. Every once in a while, I admit it to myself, a one-lined zinger, yet I never allow myself to drop into self-pity. I know all the problems I have ever contended with combined don’t begin to reach the suffering of others right now or those experienced by certain groups throughout history.

Nevertheless, each one etches greater clarity and detail upon my persona. I navigate them with more skill than I once did, most likely as a result of how those events have chiseled away at my character like a sculptor on stone. Whereas once a novice, I now stand a battle-scarred veteran from time served. I haven’t shrunk back from the field of battle, either internal or external.

I know now that repeated contention with oneself and navigation through hostile environments develops warriors. I know many and respect each one. If I were to man a raft for white-water, I would choose from these – gladiators in their own rights – men and women who have fought their lower natures over and over and who have conquered themselves. I respect that.  

Perhaps like me, they once did it on their own and struggled; and then were granted supernatural power from behind the veil. This game seems rigged for some of us. I know when I see someone become stronger, more vibrant, and refined through trial, that something uncommon is crafting that person into someone wholly different than the original version.

Why do we suffer? Because it’s the system of purification. The only way to steer the outcome to your benefit is to surrender to the transformative power of humility, self-examination, and refinement.  Any person who repeatedly shrinks away from the truth about himself and the world will not succeed.

Success isn’t measured in dollars. It isn’t measured in material possessions, good looks, or applause from the crowd. It’s the opposite of what society teaches. Instead of adding, subtract. How many of my faults, imperfections, and wrong thinking and behaviors can I drop? What arrows can I pick up to fill my quiver? How can I overcome my enemy, my own self?

Cooperate. Do your part. If you are a person of faith, ask for divine assistance. No matter who you are, enlist competent others who you respect as advisors and guides. Some elders are a real boon. Engage with ferocity and don’t sheath your sword until you have conquered yourself.