A difficult time like ours is a good time to think about how to handle “the difficult.” The German poet, Rainer Rilke, had a wonderful thought on this.
Just over a hundred years ago, Rilke exchanged some letters with an aspiring young poet. Eventually, the letters were collected and published under the title, Letters To A Young Poet. In one of the letters, Rilke wrote:
“What is required of us is that we learn to love the difficult and embrace it. In the difficult are the friendly forces, the hands that work on us.”
Now, at first, this might seem a bit naïve or preposterous. Love difficulties? Love setbacks? Love failures? Come on, get real!
But the truth is, we’ve all had experience with this “love the difficult” strategy—as little children. In fact, it helped get us ready for life.
If you’ve ever watched a toddler learning to walk, they walk, fall down, walk, fall down, walk, fall down—dozens or hundreds of times. But they never get down on themselves.
You never see a toddler sit down, discouraged, and say, “What is wrong with me? Why do I keep falling? I’ll never learn to walk!”
No, they are excited, exuberant. Their eyes are bright. The challenge invigorates them. Sometimes, they even laugh at themselves when they fall.
The founder of AA has written that we need to handle our failures in a way that “kicks us upstairs rather than downstairs.” In other words, Rilke is right: there are “friendly forces” in our failures and difficulties that can enhance our life.
I believe that bringing the exuberant heart of the child to our failures and difficulties—and even mixing in a little humor—helps to keep us in touch with those friendly forces.