In the visual arts, there is a concept called chiaroscuro. It refers to the effect of the contrast between light and dark to define shapes and objects. Think about a painting of a vase and the shadows that would fall on or around it to give form and substance to the object. In chiaroscuro, the dark gives dimension and definition to the light while the light brings depth and clarity to the dark. These bold contrasts affect the entire composition.
The same is true in life. We all go through dark and challenging times in our lives, be it the death of a loved one, an illness, or the ending of a relationship. We may feel angry, frustrated, anxious, and sad as we process these experiences. We’re emotional beings, and it’s natural to feel this way. Life can feel unfair and difficult when we go through these things.
But it’s important to remember that just as we don’t view the dark places in a painting or drawing as “bad”, these times in life are also not solely negative. Just as the dark in chiaroscuro helps to give definition and perspective to the light, these dark times in our lives can bring wisdom and perspective on life that we wouldn’t otherwise have without them. And just as the contrast affects the entire composition in art, these times can change our perspective on life as a whole. These are the experiences that enable us to really and truly appreciate the joyful and happy times in our lives. If we never knew heartache, loss, or pain, would we really be able to truly know and appreciate love, joy, and hope?
Pain can be like a wise teacher, and we can learn a great deal about ourselves, others, and life from the difficult experiences that we go through. There are gifts that come from these experiences, we just have to learn to look for them. I’ve had to endure pain almost daily for over 15 years and it has molded and shaped me into the person that I am today. I’ve learned how strong I am and I’ve developed empathy and an understanding for others as they go through their own pain and struggles. I see this as a beautiful gift.
My pain has helped me build some of the deepest, most meaningful friendships in my life because it’s built a bridge connecting me to others, rooted in my ability to relate to and understand their own pain. These are the relationships that I cherish most in my life, and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to build such deep connections with these people if it weren’t for my pain. Without the difficult experiences I’ve had to endure, these relationships would be more superficial and much less meaningful.
My darkest days have contributed greatly to the story of my life, a story that I honor and cherish. By sharing my story through my writing, I’ve also been able to connect with and help so many others and relate to them in a way that I wouldn’t be able to had I not been through what I have. I’ve learned that there are so many other people out there who are hurting, who need to hear somebody say, “Me too. I can relate. You’re not alone.”
Pain gives us perspective on life that we wouldn’t otherwise have. Because I’ve had so many bad, painful days, I’m able to appreciate the good, joyful times in my life that much more. I think back on the time that I spent in the psych ward two years ago, a time when I was so lost and hurting so badly that I had lost the will to live. It was the darkest time of my life. But today, I have a deep appreciation for life and the fact that I am still here on this earth. I see beauty everywhere now—in nature, in words, in the people around me. I am so grateful to be here and I don’t want to waste a second of this precious life now. I don’t know that I would have that perspective and appreciation for life had I not been through such a dark and trying time.
Are you going through a difficult time in your life? I urge you to remember the concept of chiaroscuro. Is there some gift that you can pull from the difficulty while still honoring that this time in your life is hard? I know it can be so difficult to see the good when you’re really in the trenches, hurting so badly. I’ve been there, and I know how painful life can be. But if you look hard enough, you can always find a glimmer of light in the darkness. Ask yourself what you have learned during this time. How have you grown as a person? How has this time caused your perspective to shift? What have you learned to appreciate more fully because of this experience?
It’s human nature to want to avoid pain and heartache. Many of us are afraid of pain—we want to numb it, deny it, avoid it at all costs. Sometimes it leads us to ask why: Why do we have to experience this pain? Why would a good God let us suffer in such a way? But pain and suffering are not all bad. Glennon Doyle says, “Pain is a traveling professor and the smartest people I know are the people who say come in and just don’t leave until you’ve taught me what I need to know.”
I urge you to try to shift your view of pain and the difficult times in your life. Instead of trying to run from them, instead of viewing them as bad, invite them in like an old friend, sit with them, and ask them what they’re trying to teach you. Remember chiaroscuro. The dark provides the perspective that we need to live life fully, with our whole hearts. You are strong enough to get through the dark times. And when the light finally comes, as it always does, you will be able to appreciate it that much more. Our pain serves a great purpose. We just have to learn how to find that purpose and not waste our pain.