A close friend of mine had a difficult childhood. Neglect, abuse in all its forms (emotional, physical, sexual), and a highly chaotic home environment driven by alcohol.
And yet, this individual (who, for the sake of convenience only, I will refer to as he) has not only survived, but thrived. He is now married with children, and is a careful, attentive and loving spouse and parent, productive and active in his community. I hold him in very high esteem.
I also recognize that to a greater or lesser degree his trials resonate with each of us.
From the caves of our ancestors to the computers of today, misery and affliction are universal to the human condition. None of us is immune. We all carry scars — some always visible, some only occasionally revealed, and some that stay forever hidden in the heart of the sufferer.
“What have I done,” we cry heavenward, “to deserve such a burden?”
We can say that some suffer the logical consequences of the knowingly bad choices they have made, but that is a heartlessly simplistic analysis. We cannot judge from a distance the measure of life’s hidden abuses endured by others that has robbed them of any sense of worth, or goodness. Many feel reduced to living by the simplest of calculations: if your broken past has rendered you beyond redemption, then there is no point in seeking it.
Others, however, see their pain not with self-judgment, but bewilderment. I have tried so hard to be good, they pray, and this is my reward? Why couldn’t my striving protect me?
Many books have been written on the subject. Many scriptures have been pondered. Many sermons have been offered by men and women revered as especially close to God. Their explanations when applied to humanity as a whole sound reasonable, plausible, and even uplifting.
But in the quiet heart of the individual who must face his unique pain alone, the truth is that such words may have an aching and unsatisfyingly hollow ring.
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After all, the fact that for centuries we have wrestled with the subject suggests we are still searching for an answer.
Seen in this light, then, who am I to suggest a solution? Me — with only my weekly allowance of 700 words?
The answer is that I’m nobody — and yet I’m somebody. Take from my thoughts what you will.
It’s simply this. We all have our sufferings — and some we overcome, and some we never do. But after a decade or two, the best of us learn to endure, with what dignity we are able to muster. We become wiser, more sensitive, less judgmental. And that’s good, but unfortunately that’s where most of us stop.
May I suggest there’s more? Could it be that the value of the suffering you have endured is to enable you to share your experience with others who are only barely beginning the road you have already traveled?
It is impossible to overstate the impact of the simple phrase, “yes, I understand, I’ve been there,” to the soul of another struggling human. There is genuine joy in finding someone who can not only sympathize, but empathize.
Personally, I believe that this kind of reaching out represents a heavenly economy of effort. I believe that God has enabled you to endure, at least in part, so that you will be able to help others learn to endure. And this will not only help them, but, remarkably, it will help complete your own healing, because you will finally see how, as you become a blessing in someone else’s life, your affliction has become a blessing in yours.
Well, that’s it. I wrote this because I’ve watched many people martyr themselves on the cross of their own suffering, while looking solely to God for relief. I worry that they may be missing a valuable truth—that their hard-won wisdom may help some other newly-struggling sufferer carry his own cross. And in this sharing with others they can finally find together the solace they seek.
Which, whether we accept it or not, is the only way we will become the shining star we were born to be.