When I started babysitting my best friends’ little boys 2 ½ years ago, I didn’t realize how much I’d learn from children’s books.

Most children’s books are designed to teach something—whether a lesson, a moral, animal sounds, or counting.  However, most of the time, the lessons I learn from the books aren’t the ones the books intended (unless of course there is more than one way to interpret the story, which I guarantee there is).

I was reading (well, actually, singing) We’re Going on a Bear Hunt to Monkey and Hedgie (these aren’t names to protect their identities, but actual nicknames for my best friends’ little boys), and was struck by the story’s profundity.

The book is about a family that goes looking for a bear (though the title claims it’s a bear hunt, the family isn’t hunting in the traditional sense). However, this “looking for a bear” expedition is full of unforeseen obstacles which they have to traverse. Whenever they run into one of these barriers, whether the river or the mud, their family motto is, “We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh, no! We’ve got to go through it.”

I’m guessing the author merely intended to tell a story about an adventurous family who faces the forest and snowstorm with bravery and gusto. However, I saw this as an incredible motto for life. Especially the ugly, gnarly, dark places that we’re afraid to go into; the obstacles and challenges we’re hesitant to go through.

I’ve found that we often avoid the ugly, gnarly, dark places of our lives because we’re afraid of what awaits us on the other side. We often avoid our pain, difficult conversations, hard relationships, or challenging opportunities because the unknown is hard for us to swallow. We feel safer looking at the forest, staring at the obstacle before us, rather than strapping on our boots and trudging through it. Standing still (or rather, staying stuck) is easier than venturing forward.

Yet, the book encourages us to do the exact opposite. It tells us not to avoid. Though we think avoidance is safer, it’s actually worse. Avoidance keeps us trapped in our pain and dysfunction. It keeps us alone and disconnected.  Avoidance limits growth. It’s a roadblock to progress. It hinders the journey we’re on.  Its motto is: “We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. So, we’ll just stay right here, pretend like nothing’s wrong, and that everything will magically work itself out.”

 If the family adopted the above motto, they never would’ve found the bear.

What I love most about the book though, is that it shows us that we don’t face these ugly, dark, gnarly places alone. The story isn’t about one strapping, courageous individual who conquers the windstorm on her/his own. It’s about a family. And, the only reason they’re able to confront (and overcome) the challenges they run into is because they do it together. They have each other to lean on in the face of what seems daunting and scary.

This is how we’re able to face our stuff too. We don’t go at it alone. We were never intended to.

When faced with our own darkness and that of others; when we’re uncertain of the unknown; when life’s path seems windy and dim, may it be illuminated by the book’s mantra: “We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh, no! We’ve got to go through it.”

 And, may we chant this together.