Embracing Process

It would seem that I have an aversion to doing hard things.

And when I say hard, I mean, harder than unlocking my phone. Or, anything that can’t be done from the comfort of my couch. I mean, what’s harder than the flicking motion of mindlessly scrolling through other peoples lives? Pretty hard stuff right there.

I hope the sarcasm is leaking through. But truly, I’ve gone soft.

A life of communion with God. Hard. Building a thriving relationship with my wife. Hard. Exercising patience with my toddler. Not easy.

I’ve been turning a working theory in my mind, it fits with almost every area of life I can think of.

Why is it the best things in life require the most effort?

Want to eat healthy? Prepare to increase your grocery budget, meal plan for days, food prep for days, and if you use the microwave all nutritional value goes out the window.

Want a significant, satisfying, and deep relationship with your spouse? It only comes through understanding one another’s heart, exercising humility, and choosing to serve before your own desires are met. It’s not going to happen accidentally and it sure isn’t going to be easy.

In general, we want the end result with none of the work. We want to achieve our goals without submitting to a process.

But here’s the thing, every time we avoid process and take the easy road, it becomes that much harder to make the change. The easy road leads to nothing. You get nothing at the end of it and you are left dissatisfied.

I’m not saying that we should all become organic farmers and only drink milk from the goats we raised. I am saying that we could all stand to engage process in our daily lives.

What do I mean by that?

Process in Goals

Process is actually a safety net. It’s hard to envision what the end result is because you haven’t actually taken the first step. As Ryan Holiday says in his book The Obstacle is the Way,

“The process is about finishing. Finishing games. Finishing workouts. Finishing film sessions. Finishing drives. Finishing reps. Finishing plays. Finishing blocks. Finishing the smallest task you have right in front of you and finishing it well.”

It’s about taking the first step, and then the next, and the one after that.

If you need help painting a picture of process, just imagine a mess. That’s what process usually feels like. It doesn’t feel glamorous. It just feels like a mess. And yet, if you string together a series of messes, something starts to emerge.

Moving toward your goals looks like taking the first step despite your imperfections. Of course you are not where you want to be, that is why you have a goal. And that is also why you have to be ok with where you are right now. Process is a good thing.

Process as a Teacher

Not only does embracing process help move us toward our goals, it also provides an opportunity to learn invaluable character traits. That I would argue, cannot be learned outside of process.

I’m an avid runner, do you know the way you train for a marathon? You guessed it. By running. A lot. More than you probably care to know.

No matter how many times I’ve been through the training process for a race, if I take a 3 or 4 month break from running, I have to start over. To train for the same race I may have run the year prior, I need to show up 4-5 times a week, for 12 weeks, before I’m ready to race.

My training process is not just keeping my physical body in shape. It’s teaching me consistency (finishing the workouts, putting in the time), self-control (the days I want to run faster than I should), self-discipline (the days I’d rather sit on the couch and eat ice cream than run), perseverance (when dealing with nagging injuries or a variable schedule), and to not take myself too seriously. Just get out there and run for goodness sake Isaac, forget about all the pace mumbo jumbo.

This translates to many areas of life. For most of us (none navy seals) our natural default is not to do the hard things in life. We want the easy way. The convenient way.

“Don’t make me practice long hours for years on end, I want to be a seasoned artist now.”

“I shouldn’t have to sacrifice to build a thriving marriage, it should just happen automatically.”

When we engage process, it provides us a context to produce lasting qualities. Related to our natural/physical qualities as well as our inner development.

And conversely, when we avoid process, we miss opportunities to develop our natural/physical qualities as well as our inner character.

Doing hard things in moderation contributes to your long term success.

This has endless opportunities for application.

  • The mom stuck at home with two kids that hasn’t had a break all day. Choosing to engage the messy, un-instagramable, mundane nature of motherhood and allow it to shape her.
  • The employee that feels overlooked, undervalued, and underpaid. Engaging your job with excellence and allowing it to fuel your drive for success.
  • The process of changing your diet to fuel a more sustainable, healthy lifestyle. Start small, and embrace the process of slowly replacing default food habits with healthier ones.
  • The commute that you loathe taking everyday. Find a way to make the most of it. There are a thousand things you could use that time for.

I’m in this camp too. Engaging in process is hard and it rarely feels good. But it’s the showing up again, and again, and again, and again, that transformation begins to take root.

…any movement toward freedom and life, any movement toward God or others, will be opposed. Marriage, friendship, beauty, rest—the thief wants it all.
— John Eldredge

If it’s of significant worth, it’s going to be opposed. It’s a battle to pursue things of lasting meaning or change.

But choosing to engage right where it feels hardest is actually where the most fruit will come.

Process in Trials

This verse used to bother me a great deal. You read it and think, “What is that even supposed to mean?"

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. — James 1:2–4

Process may come in the form of trials. Recovering from addiction. Walking with loved ones through cancer treatment. Pursuing a season of emotional and spiritual healing. The car breaks down. These can all be an invitation to transformation amidst the challenge of doing the hard thing.

As my trials in life have escalated from running out of ramen in college, being brave enough to ask my then girlfriend to marry me, and eventually to walking with my family as my mom battled for her life with leukemia. Facing challenges in life have provided a whole new opportunity to engage my world.

It would seem that in trials there is a unique opportunity to hear the voice of God and learn about His character and nature. But you only become “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing…” if you choose to engage with it.

…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. — Romans 5:3–5

I’m not sure I’ve yet graduated to a level of rejoicing in suffering or counting it all joy, but I want to move in that direction. Doing the hard things of life, is hard. There’s no way around it. But if I can plant the seed deep within that engaging in the process of the hard things is ultimately moving me toward the things that I ultimately aspire too, then maybe I can begin to learn how to rejoice in the process.