The most productive, rewarding lives come from balancing cycles of pain and comfort.

Like blacksmiths use fire and water to shape metal, we need both pain and ease to transform our lives. It is only through surviving tough times and then recuperating afterwards where we are forged into the people we are meant to be.

I’d once bought into the notion that if one is honestly spiritual, life would be easy. A cake walk. When chronic illness returned to my life four years ago, I convinced myself that I must’ve missed a lesson that I needed to learn.

While I am growing from this latest round of disability, I don’t believe I am experiencing this pain because I’m not good enough. Instead, I realize I’m being formed into something greater that what I’ve been.

If you are going through tough times, you are in good company.
History shows us that many spiritual standouts did not lead lives of comfort. Here are some examples:

  • In 1962, Mother Teresa wrote about feeling unwanted, unloved and unclaimed. Later in her life, she said this gave her insight to how Jesus must’ve felt on the cross.
  • The Apostle Paul suffered from chronic poor health that scientists now suspect was epilepsy.
  • Hazrat Inayat Khan, a pioneer who brought Sufism to the West, said, “There can be no rebirth without a dark night of the soul, a total annihilation of all that you believed in and thought that you were.” And, “One is never so strong as when one is broken.”

An easy life doesn’t equal a fulfilling life.
No matter how much we work to improve ourselves and grow our relationship with The Great I Am, it doesn’t free us from difficult events transpiring in our lives.

Monumental emotional, spiritual and physical events spur growing pains, coaxing us to make difficult decisions. These catalysts can be disease, the death of a loved one or financial hardships, among others. They remap our life’s landscape and reveal a different path for us to take. During challenging periods, our new realities push us out of our comfort space, propelling us forward.

Comfort’s most vital role is to provide us with rest—a pause in our personal evolution to digest what we’ve learned during our trials. Periods of ease also give us something to remember and to hold onto when difficult times return.

Here are some of the most common obstacles that can spur our transformation.

  • Illness forces us to slow down and reevaluate our priorities. What is taken away during chronic disease can lead to deep soul searching. Disease also shows us that we are not our bodies; we are so much more.
  • Loneliness illustrates what life becomes when one disconnects with The Light, God’s unconditional love. This is a time for rich spiritual growth. Seek out your unique private relationship with the Supreme Being. None of us is ever alone for God is always there beside us.
  • Financial distress reveals the emptiness of the material world. It leads us to career change, further education or may help us prioritize our spending habits. It hones our ability to see value beyond the monetary.
  • Relationship strife illustrates the role of our ego. It helps us to shed “me” thoughts, learning how to be more flexible, loving and giving. It teaches us the importance of mutual respect, kindness and opening up to one another. Further, relationships demonstrate how we contribute to that strife and what we need to work on.
  • Mourning reveals love’s intensity, what we value about people and how we need to be part of some tribe—a place where we can be ourselves. Having a loved one cross over proves our time here is limited and our need to make the most of what we have left. Think of what you miss about that person and strive to provide that asset to others.

Hardship forces us to find joy in small pleasures, an appreciation of instances you may not notice if life were always calm. Pain demands your attention and challenges your notions of what you want your life to be.

We have anger, frustration and sadness to show us what love, patience and laughter really are.