I have been fasting for 10 days. Given that it is the summer and I live in the UK, this fasting means eating once a day. This Sunday the family (including me) went for a country walk and picnic. For some of the day it was hot. When we stopped for lunch, after walking up a hill, my fellow family members drank and ate. I did not. Later on, upon returning to the car park, the family ordered drinks and ice cream. I did not.
Why do you do this to yourself? This is the question that has been posed to me more than once. I can see why this question is asked: I am not religious so am not obligated to fast; It is not like I am fat and so some fasting might be beneficial to me; It is not like fasting will elevate my status or earn me riches. So why fast? Why bring on this difficulty on myself? Why welcome this difficulty? Why rejoice in this difficulty? The following passage provides a pointer:
“Hardihood is a quality supposedly created by difficulty, and I have always felt it to be stimulating virtue. I like people who have it, and that must mean I like people who have been disciplined by hardship, which is true. I find them realistic, not easily daunted, and that make few childish claims. This also means that the hardness of life …. creates the qualities I admire.
Suddenly I wonder – is all hardness justified because we are so slow in realising that life was meant to be heroic? Greatness is required of us. That is life’s aim and justification, and we poor fools have for centuries been trying to make it convenient, manageable, pliant to our will.
What I cling to like a tool or weapon in the hand of a man who knows how to use it, is the belief that difficulties are what makes it honourable and interesting to be alive.”
– Florida Scott Maxwell, The Measure of My Days
My experience shows that one’s being and one’s skills grow in embracing and taking on difficulties and hardship. It occurs to e that I have been left diminished wherever I have taken the easy path. Allow me to share two examples from my life:
1. When I was young I was a whiz at doing maths (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division) in my head. This fluency was acquired through persistent disciplined practice. Then the calculator arrived and my teachers instructed us to buy-use calculators in secondary school (age 11+). One day I realised I was no longer fluent in doing even simple maths in my head. I found myself both sad and disappointed.
2. My wife is an excellent cook and she used to do the cooking. My role and contribution was limited to setting the table and clearing up afterwards. Then I invented and lived from the possibility of being a good cook. Now my Sunday mornings, usually between 9:00 and 13:00, are spent cooking Sunday lunch. I now show up for myself and others as a capable cook. I have traded ease for a difficulty and in the process enlarged my sense of myself as a capable person who can learn new skills when he goes about it the right way. And the listening of me by my family as altered: they now listen to me as a good cook.
I invite you to play BIG by inviting-welcoming more difficulty/hardship into your life. And using this difficulty-hardship as a scaffolding that enables you to climb and in the climbing learn new skills, bring forth dormant capabilities, and elevate-enlarge your sense of sell and your experience of living.