Have you ever looked at a huge, messy situation in front of you and thought, “I just can’t”? Perhaps the thought of walking through whatever that thing is — financial strain, relationship issues, a health crisis — is simply too much to bear.

There must be another way, a way around this hot mess of a situation, you think.  You close your eyes for just a moment and offer up this simple prayer, “Please, let there be another way. Please move this struggle from my path.”

But then you open your eyes and finances are still uncertain, the relationship is still tricky and the health crisis hasn’t budged.

So then what?

There are two choices – the path around or the path through.

When presented with a big, messy struggle, I will choose the path around every single time. But there are great lessons to be learned on the path through.

You see, the path through teaches us things that we could learn no other way. Relationships are strengthened, priorities are clarified and important lessons are learned.

Right after college, I worked for a nonprofit that matched people who were battling cancer with someone who had survived the same type of cancer. Often, I was the first person they talked to when they called the office looking to be matched with a volunteer. Many callers were in tears, either because of their own diagnosis or the diagnosis of their spouse, parent or child. I can tell you, with all certainty, I never spoke with someone who wanted the journey before them.

They wanted the path around.

And yet, there they were, staring at the path through, desperate for a ray of hope.

And there stood our volunteers; survivors of all ages, diagnoses and life stages. These heroes were there, ready to share their experience and walk alongside those who needed to find their way.

These volunteers are some of the most optimistic, joyful and grateful people I have ever met in my life. They survived epic battles  and stood at the other side ready to tackle anything and help in any way they could.

A conversation I had with one volunteer and dear friend changed the way I look at struggles. We were talking about her diagnosis with brain cancer, her battle to health and life in remission and she said that if she could go back, she wouldn’t change her diagnosis. This amazing woman was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer in her twenties, just as she and her boyfriend were talking about marriage and building a life together, and she wouldn’t have changed her diagnosis.

I was totally shocked. I knew the battle she had fought and couldn’t imagine not wanting to change her path.

But then she shared how she saw every day as a gift, how the cancer journey had strengthened her relationship with her boyfriend (who she married as soon as her hair grew back after chemo) and made her priorities so much clearer. Her life was totally disrupted with this battle, but she was grateful the diagnosis transformed her life.

She said that the cancer made her life better.

Twenty-four year old me couldn’t understand how she saw the struggle of her life as a gift.

Thirty-seven year old me is starting to understand.

I now understand how struggles make you stronger, help you to put things in their proper perspective and actively seek joy. It is clear to me now that my friend didn’t just wear jingle bells on her shoes because the sound makes people smile (that’s what she would tell you if you asked) but because the sound reminded her of singing in the church choir at Christmas, one of her favorite times of the year.

I now understand how struggles teach you to not take the beauty of your life for granted and to celebrate the little things. I’ve now personally experienced how the strength and perspective you gain as you battle through outweighs the struggle and heartbreak of hardships.

The struggles and troubles that are placed in our paths are refiner’s fires – through the process we are transformed and made new. The person we were before the struggle is often vastly different than who we are after.

What my friend was trying to tell me, and what I’ve learned along the way, is that the path through can be beautiful.

When presented with a big, messy struggle, I will choose the path around every single time. But there are great lessons to be learned on the path through.