“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” – Frederick Douglass
By Dawn Onley
When I was younger, I use to cringe during testimony time in church.
In the Black church, this was the time when the preacher would ask if anyone had a testimony they’d like to give about how good God had been to them, how faithful He was to His word. If no one immediately stood up, the preacher would prod a bit more aggressively: “God has been too good for you not to give him the praise! Surely, someone has a testimony that they’d like to share about how God brought you out of something…”
Inevitably, someone would stand and offer up a story about how they had been down on their luck, but God delivered them from eviction or drug abuse or teenage pregnancy or sinful living. Once the first person started, that testimony would be followed up by a few others.
I didn’t understand why people would openly share such deeply personal stories of heartache and pain with people that they didn’t intimately know. Many of these stories had a happy ending, or at the very least a promising one, but the triumphs came after we sat through sometimes excruciating details of tragedy, abuse, costly mistakes and misjudgments.
These days, I have a better understanding of the power of testimonies – when they come freely and are not forced — and I have witnessed how they seem to lighten the load of those giving the testimonies and provide reassurances to those hearing them.
I also think my initial discomfort had something to do with my relationship with struggle.
For years, I thought struggle was something for which to be ashamed. I couldn’t fathom exposing my vulnerabilities in somebody’s pulpit under the glare of people’s eyes, and perceived judgments. Hell, I barely wanted to face them, myself.
Now I realize that struggle makes us tough. Struggle helps strengthen our endurance and resolve. Struggle is an important part of the process.
There is an allegorical story that helps crystalize the importance of struggle. It goes like this:
A man found the cocoon of an emperor moth and took it home to watch the moth emerge. One day a small opening appeared, and for several hours the moth struggled but couldn’t seem to force its body past a certain point. Deciding that something was wrong, the man cut the remaining bit of cocoon with scissors. The moth then emerged easily—its body large and swollen, its wings small and shriveled.
The man continued to watch, expecting that in a few hours, the wings would spread out into their large natural beauty. That didn’t happen. The moth spent its entire life dragging around a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never did fly.
The man consulted a biologist to discover what had happened to the moth. He learned that the constricting cocoon and struggle are both normal and necessary. The struggle actually causes fluid from the moth’s body to move into its wings, reducing the size of the body and making the wings strong and larger.
In the story, the man who attempted to do good by helping the moth, actually hurt it. The moth gained its wingspan through its struggle.
Struggle is a vital part of our growth. It builds strength and character. It teaches us vital life lessons. It teaches us patience. It can help us become more empathetic to others. We become wiser as a result. It makes us appreciate success even more.
Struggle is never pleasant while we are going through it, but it is necessary to build the people that you and I are today.
If you’re struggling with something right now, try to make peace with it. And know that, as the gospel songwriter and singer James Bignon sings, there’s often a blessing “on the other side of through.”