Five Keys to Transform Difficult Times into Growth

Photography © by Paul Johnson

I used to be Successful

It’s a story I’ve heard several times recently. I’m speaking with a guy, and in a reflective moment, he drops his head and speaks softly about how tough the past few years have been. He used to have more status, money, prestige, respect.

But not anymore.

Now life is full of struggle. It’s like his whole year has turned into one long Lenten season. Maybe he lost his job. His woman. His house. His self-respect.

His current salary is a fraction of what it once was. He has to work longer hours. His boss is a witch.

The details vary, but let’s face it – the last few years have been difficult for countless men. Women too, for sure – but let’s talk about the guys. How can a man adjust to a lower station in life, especially after having enjoyed past success?

Reset Goals –Transform Life

For Christians, and especially for men, it’s important to define the goal. Although we often act like it’s achieving the highest position, salary, influence, or whatever – it’s not. The real goal is faithfulness – to answer God’s unique calling for our lives, and to be faithful no matter what the external circumstances. It’s all about striving for holiness.

As scripture tells us repeatedly, we’re called to be not afraid – and place our hope in the Lord. Although each situation is obviously unique, following are a few thoughts on how tough times can be transformed into spiritual growth:

  1. Be HumbleRecall the parable in Luke chapter 14 where Jesus is speaking about guests who choose places of honor at the wedding banquet. He reminds us that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11) In practical terms, this should encourage us to do the best we can in our new position (or in looking for the new position). It is also positions us better for future opportunities.
  2. Find New Purpose Money is not a good motivator. In fact, studies continue to suggest that beyond a certain point, money doesn’t really motivate us at all. There has to be more to it than that! We need to find that aspect of our work where we can truly add value given our unique skills – even if it’s something as simple as smiling at people when we just don’t feel like it. Any legitimate work can be done well, and thereby sanctified.
  3. Serve OthersConsider broader stakeholders in your life, and consider how they might actually benefit from your situation. Will you be able to spend more time at home with your wife and children? Are you a little less stressed out on a day-to-day basis? Can you go to Mass more often, and maybe bring a friend along? By focusing outside ourselves, we open up new possibilities to make a real difference – in ways that can have eternal consequences.
  4. Pray Like Crazy God is always calling us to deepen our prayer lives, and this is a great excuse. Pray about what it is God is calling you to do, how to use the gifts and talents he has given you, and consider this in a context that is broader than just your job. Then find someone else who needs prayers, and commit to praying for him or her. Offer up your ongoing difficulties for them (since we all have ongoing difficulties in one form or another), out of love for God and the Church.
  5. Hope In God’s Grace We have a tendency to project difficult circumstances into the indefinite future, and forget that God is also Lord of the future. By placing our trust in Him, we should be mindful that He is able to work in ways we can’t foresee, and His plans are so much better than ours. This enables the peace that surpasses all understanding to more readily flow into our hearts.

Many people have successful careers, only to realize (often too late) that the things they thought were so important really weren’t. Better for us to recognize this now, and put our energy first into faithfulness – which isn’t opposed to success at all. It simply seeks a much higher-value reward.

Please help us in our mission to assist readers to integrate their Catholic faith, family and work. Tell your family and friends about this article using both the Share and Recommend buttons below and via email. We value your comments and encourage you to leave your thoughts below. Thank you! – The Editors

Difficult Times

Print this entry


  1. Kevin,

    Well stated and very wise. If I could, I’d like to share my thoughts on your number one––humility. Before I do, I need to set up my reflection with the following from my yet unpublished book, A Leaf on Water.

    Anno Domini 2009, I lost everything. Materially, spiritually, I was bankrupt; even my physical being thought about calling it quits. Every breath, every day seemed to be a cascade of emptiness and desolation. Yet, in retrospect, every figurative drop of blood was necessary.

    As a former Marine fighter pilot I’ve experienced both literally and figuratively the reality of flaming out. However, it is the metaphorical crash and burn that ignited this book. As a big shot investing billions of dollars globally for institutional investors to collecting coins for food, from God-denying arrogance to the humility of homelessness, from writing screenplays that attracted Academy Award winning producers to contemplating suicide, from poster child to also-ran, I risked being defined by a life gone terribly wrong. Thankfully, that was not to be.

    Kevin, I too used to be successful.

    And in writing my book, I communicated my story in a number of ways. Ultimately, I confronted the subject of pride. In the discussion that follows, My dog Lani guides me along.

    Hubris and Humility

    I’m not sure if I’ve been reticent by design but it dawned on me this morning that my story to date has been incomplete. More of a revelation, actually. Everything I’ve written previously, I believe it to be true. Unfortunately, there are things I haven’t said and one fact in particular may be the pivotal reason for my downfall. Regrettably, I’ve accused others of this transgression.

    Lani – One of those aha moments?

    “I think so.”

    As I see it, my entire life has been an engine powered by hubris and not humility. To put it succinctly, my credo has been that I’m special, i.e., better and entitled, the corollary of which is you’re not. My hubris, my excessive pride, has been nothing more than a form of self-idolatry.

    Lani – You might be on to something.

    In high school, I recall telling a friend that I expected to be on the cover of Time magazine. For what escapes me. In college, a professor of mine took me to task for my arrogance and said something to the effect, “Some folks see themselves for who they could be, other folks see them for who they are.” I had talked about doing this or that, undoubtedly something momentous, and my prof decided that enough was enough. His advice clearly suggested I quit talking about it and go do it because until I do, I’m no different than the hordes of dreamers and talkers who forever fail to deliver. The fact that I never did something earth shattering speaks for itself. Even today, I suspect my thinly disguised conceit and vanity is a turn-off to people who can be discerning as to whom they wish to extend an assist.

    As the years have come and gone, I’ve had my share of interesting exploits but I always assumed my specialness would someday be rewarded or acknowledged; that my destiny would encompass so much more. Sadly, it’s been more than half a century since my iconic arrival on this planet and the last time I looked, Mt. Rushmore was still four guys. It seems I overestimated my importance. I wore a Superman outfit as a six year old but my lifelong Kryptonite has been my self-importance.

    God loves me immeasurably, I know it. However, His plans for me aren’t as grandiose as I would have hoped. Why is that? Why haven’t I been graced with exceptional skills, talents or abilities that could shape the world? Why haven’t I been situated in life where I could positively influence others, for the good of humanity? Why has the legitimacy of an important job even eluded me when there is barely a day that goes by that I haven’t diligently looked? Why? I’m not nearly as unique as I’ve presumed. God has willed that significant callings are for others, not me. I should graciously accept the mysterious wisdom of His plan.

    Lani – Think about what you just said. Can’t a simple Christian life be a noble pursuit?

    “There’s a famous Catholic saint, St. Therese of Lisieux, who wrote that what really matters in life is not great deeds, but great love. So you’re right. I just don’t know whether I have the capacity for great love. My track record in that regard is not stellar.”

    Lani – That’s the past. We have our whole life in front of us. I have faith in you.

    I’ve learned that humility has an important role to play in my life. This fact cannot be overstated. Categorically, union with God is impossible without humility. Interesting, isn’t it? I must become modest and acknowledge my lowliness to unite to God. If not, my inflated view of self will always disrupt this most central of relationships.

  2. Marcus, thanks very much for your comment! I dedicated an entire chapter in my book to humility and its necessity for good teamwork, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s such a foundational virtue, and pride is so pervasive. Let’s pray for one another!

  3. Kevin, thank you for your prayers. I’ll definitely reciprocate. And you’re so right about pride. It’s a diabolical transformer of man.

    Some people have suggested to me that my circumstances of late were a veiled blessing. Yes, I was humbled. Pride and arrogance were stripped away. And God became an objective. But veiled? In retrospect, I see God’s work as an undisguised miracle.

    The dark moments of the last few years have been agonizing. But I became a man of strong faith. Strength comes from meeting resistance, from overcoming obstacles. The stronger the opposition, the stronger the faith. I’ve been tested. My faith was compelled to grow.

    As clay in God’s hands, I had sharp edges, irregular form. As well as a hardened and misdirected will. I was determined to live my life as I saw fit. God, as potter, needed to remold me without breaking me. This shaping process, as I’ve learned, is arduous and time-consuming.

    With a bit of sarcasm in my voice, I’ve oftentimes asked God if the hellish fire of the kiln was necessary.

    I imagined Him saying, “Every degree had its purpose.” I can even see Him smiling. Compassion filling the universe.

    Thank you Lord for loving me so much.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *