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The first three words in Scott Peck’s huge bestseller, The Road Less Traveled, (first published in 1978) are these:

Life is difficult.

You might be thinking, “Well, I don’t need a book to tell me that!”

It’s true: we all have experience with the difficult. Relationships are difficult. But so is loneliness. Having a job is difficult. But so is not having a job. Figuring out who you are and what you believe and what you want to do can be difficult. And on it goes.

But why does Peck start there? I think he believes we do better in life when we face the difficulties and have a strategy for dealing with them–as opposed to just hoping they’ll go away. I like the strategy of the German poet Rilke:

 “What is required of us is to learn to love the difficult. In the difficult are the friendly forces, the hands that work on us.

 Love the difficult? Seriously?

Well, can you think of a better strategy?

Rilke is talking about embracing the difficult and engaging it as a challenge—as opposed to dreading it, resenting it or trying to sweep it under the rug.

 This can apply to small difficulties as well as big ones. And our sense of humor and humanity can be a great help.

Like the wife who (after a quarrel the night before), smiled sweetly at her husband at breakfast and said, “It’s so nice to see you this morning. I was afraid the men in white coats were going to come and take you away.” (They both cracked up.)

Or the woman who told a co-worker she was having problems with, “It seems that you and I don’t get along very well. Could I take you to lunch so we can get better acquainted?”

Fair warning. Even if we follow this strategy, the difficult will still be difficult.

But when we embrace the difficult, it does something amazing.

It helps us grow.