I once asked a hospice patient what his favorite season was. Without hesitation, he responded, “Football season!”

It’s that time of year. You can sense it. The atmosphere is permeated with that unique Friday-night-lights, Saturday-tailgating, Sunday-afternoon-couch-potato feeling that every Fall seems to bring.

 

Life is a lot like football

In some ways, life resembles football. It can be exciting, exhilarating, and thrilling. It can also be scary, unnerving, and painful. It demands discipline, hard work, and guts. Trusting our coaches, being a team player, and learning to excel at our positions are indispensable. Mastering the game plan is crucial, but making good adjustments along the way can be even more important.

Above all else, one fact remains: If you’re in the game, you’re going to get hit. How you respond to the hits will make a huge difference, not just for you, but for the entire team.

Life is wonderful – and tough. We’re going to take some hits. A few of them might be brutal. A mentor of mine once said, “Life is a series of losses. How we interpret and respond to those losses makes all the difference.”

We’ve heard this before, many times. I think of the old Timex commercials – “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” Here are some other well-used examples:

  • When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
  • When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
  • Quitters never win and winners never quit.
  • No pain, no gain.
  • What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.

The message is clear. Hits will come. Be ready. Persevere. Endure. Stay at it. Keep moving. Overcome.

 

As we age, the losses pile up

As we age, the losses pile up. Over time we lose abilities, memory, health, and even independence. We can do less. Body parts ache more. Our schedules become littered with medical visits. We’re slower. We wear down. Life gets more exhausting. As a friend of mine recently said, “I was just tired before. Now I’m re-tired!”

We also experience relational losses. People leave, move, or separate. Some distance themselves or disappear. Everyone is getting older. People die. Life and relationships are always in flux. Nothing stays the same for very long.

Over time, our accumulated losses can grow heavy. Like an aging football player, we feel the hits more. Pain from past injuries surfaces. We adjusted and healed at the time, but we didn’t walk away unaffected. How we responded to those hits powerfully shaped us.

Again, how we interpret and respond to the losses we experience will have a massive impact on our lives. This is truer now than ever before.

 

How do we handle the hits that come?

How do we handle the losses of life, past, present, and future? Here are a few suggestions.

First, be aware of your own personal history of loss.

We all have a history of loss. Our pasts are littered with disappointments, rejections, and conflicts.

Neglect, abandonment, domestic violence, sexual abuse, physical abuse, physical illness, mental illness, handicaps, learning disabilities, bullying, failures, moves, relational break-ups, separations, divorce, deployment, and deaths – these are hits we might experience in life. Some have more intense histories than others, but the key is not how much loss we’ve had but how we responded to the hits that came. The past never determines our future, but it does greatly influence it.

Being aware of your history of loss can be helpful in navigating current and future difficulties.

Second, be real and authentic.

Most of us try to put a good face on things. Nothing wrong with that. But sometimes we can also be guilty of stuffing our losses and denying the pain that comes from them.

What we shove inside doesn’t disappear, but gets stored away to be released later. Unresolved grief and loss can pop up as anxiety, depression, mental or physical illness, vocational trouble, and relational dysfunction. Not handling our losses well can eat us up from the inside out.

Wouldn’t it be nice if our baggage got lighter rather than heavier as time went on? I believe this is possible. We can offload some weight by becoming more real and authentic.

We all need someone – hopefully several people – that we can be ourselves with. We heal and grow as we are real with a few other people about what’s happening inside us.

Third, cultivate a thankful heart.

See the positives. Count your blessings. Keep the glass half full. Don’t deny the obstacles and difficulties, but cease to view them through “doom and gloom” lenses.

An old proverb states, “A thankful heart is good medicine.” Seeing the good and being thankful can become salve to painful wounds. Thankfulness leads to more healing than we realize.

Fourth, intentionally turn losses into gains.

I once read a book titled I Eat Problems for Breakfast. We wake up and boom – here come the challenges.

If hits are inevitable, why not make them count? No matter what happens, focus on growing and learning through it. Put the pain and grief to work. Seek to serve, assist, and love others. Live with purpose.

The heart tends to heal as we give and serve. As we turn losses into gains, others will benefit, and the ripple effect can be extraordinary.

Fifth, develop an “overcomer” mindset.

Life can be brutal. Don’t waste the pain, but make the most of it. Much of life is about overcoming.

This is hero-making stuff. We live for others, for the greater good – leaping, vaulting, and sometimes stumbling over speed bumps, potholes, and road closure signs along the way. We overcome – again, and again, and again.

We eat problems for breakfast.

 

How we do life matters

Every one of us is more important than we realize. How we do life – including how we interpret and respond to the hits along the way – matters.

Be yourself. Be real and authentic. Cultivate a thankful, appreciative heart. Seek to grow and serve. Turn those losses into gains. Develop an overcomer mindset.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s breakfast time. I have some problems to eat.

This article first appeared in the Bryan-College Station EAGLE, September Seasoned Magazine, 2017.

 

Question: Of the five suggestions in this article, which one resonates with you the most, and why?

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