Recently, during the Sunday morning Coffee Hour at the church where I work, I had a conversation with a parishioner whom I hadn’t seen in a while. It turns out that she had been on sabbatical from her job teaching at a local university, and had spent the last several months abroad doing research for an upcoming book.
We got to talking about the writing process, and I asked her if embarking on a book project feels daunting. By this point in her career, she’s done it many times. She smiled and replied, “It’s much easier now that I have something to say.”
Of course writing is easier for her now that she’s been researching, teaching, exploring ideas, and formulating fresh insights for several decades. How could it have been easy when she was fresh out of graduate school and still a novice in her field of study? But, as life would have it, in order to get to this point in her career when ideas are forthcoming and she has done the research necessary to confidently take a stance on an issue or topic, she had to publish books. She had to say things before it was easy, in order to arrive at a place when writing wouldn’t be so hard.
In the words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Everything is hard before it is easy.”
I think that this idea is true, in one way or another, for all of us.
I remember coordinating service projects during my first year working at the church; each time I brought a group of students to a different service site, I had to navigate a new and often complicated parking situation, meet the site’s volunteer coordinator for the first time, and answer students’ and parents’ questions based on what I had been told versus what I had experienced myself. Each service project was a basket full of unknowns. The same was true of the Confirmation classes that I taught, the retreats I led, the Peer Minister and facilitator trainings I offered and the prayer services I coordinated. The newness of everything made my first year very hard.
Short of a fast-forward time-machine invention, there is no way around the particular set of challenges that newness brings. The value in Goethe’s words is that they normalize the feelings of struggle. They don’t hasten the ease, but they help me remember: this isn’t hard because I’m incapable, or unsuited for this kind of work. It’s hard because it’s new, and everything is hard before it is easy. Goethe’s words remind me that if I stay persistent, whatever I am working on will become easier. I find this sentiment extremely comforting and validating; it enables me to embrace the “hard” and welcome the accompanying opportunities for growth, learning, a sense of accomplishment, and joyful surprise.