I recently watched the movie Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon. For those of you who haven’t seen it, the movie is based on a true story about a woman named Cheryl Strayed. Following the death of her mother to cancer at a young age, Cheryl struggles to cope, eventually cheating on her husband several times and getting hooked on heroin. Coming to her senses, she decides to spend the next 3 months hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, alone. The movie follows her adventures as she tries to heal her soul.
I wasn’t expecting it, but I found the film to be quite moving. One of the most interesting parts of the movie for me was how Cheryl dealt with her struggles and failures, and integrated them into her story. Struggle and failure are consistent parts of our lives, but I struggle to deal with them well. Usually I want to run away from struggle and failure, and when I come out of a period of struggle or failure, I try to forget about it as quickly as I can.
One of the things I admired most about Cheryl in the movie Wild was her courage to integrate her struggles and failures into her story, instead of running from them.
Near the end of the movie, as Cheryl reflects on her journey and what she has learned, she says this:
What if I forgave myself? What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? What if I’d actually wanted to fuck every one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?
I think these words offer insight into how we might integrate our struggles and failures into our own lives:
- Forgive yourself. Our lives are often a contradiction. We long to be good, but we mess up. We want to do the right thing, but we make decisions that hurt ourselves and others. Sometimes our mistakes are small, and we can course correct without too much trouble. But sometimes our mistakes are big, and we are left with heavy consequences that stick with us. Whatever our struggles or failures, I think self-forgiveness is necessary in order to move on. At some point, we need to move out of self-pity and self-condemnation, accept the fact we made a mistake, and carry on with our lives.
- Part of the story. What would it look like if we stopped trying to hide our struggles and failures, and instead viewed our struggles and failures as part of our story? Instead of trying to run away from our mistakes, what if we viewed them as an integral part of the process that brings us to the present moment? I would rather live a full life with plenty of successes and failures, than sit on the sidelines trying to avoid mistakes. What have your failures taught you? How can you learn from your mistakes? How can you use your struggles to help others?
- Already redeemed. I love the last part of Cheryl’s narrative, because it touches on a core belief I think could make a big difference in the way we view ourselves. What if you viewed yourself as loved, redeemed, and valuable, even in the midst of your struggles and failures? Often our view of ourselves shifts along with our current circumstances. If we have a successful day at work, if our kids are getting good grades, if we look in the mirror and like what we see, we feel good about ourselves. But this self-image is fragile. If we make a mistake or mess up, we feel stupid and judge ourselves harshly. One thing I love about the concept of grace is that it says we are loved and valuable, right in the midst of our struggles and failures. We don’t have to do anything to earn it. It’s ours.
Discussion: What did you think of the movie Wild? How are you doing at integrating your struggles and failures into your life and story?