I’ve been struggling against a popular idea that suffering brings growth. Last week, I wrote about my own experiences with tough times. Character building and lessons learned have only come to pass in the aftermath of difficulty when God has used others to love me.
It turns out that almost everyone disagrees with me and I’m trying to figure out if we are simply describing nuanced differences of the same idea. From my perspective, problems do not cause growth, but instead it’s the out-pouring of love and support that brings healing.
Last week I heard many renditions of this: Had I never gone through ________________ (financial crisis, health scare, betrayal, rejection), I would never have known the depths of________________ (my own resourcefulness, God’s faithfulness, the presence of love in the world around me, the intimacy in a specific relationship)! I agree with this idea and I have my own small lessons learned to show that this simple equation can hold true. My sweet bloggy friend Jen wrote about the suffering that comes with loss and how this opened a more intimate relationship in her life. Gayle said she knew God in a deeper way once her house was burned down. I know friends who have lost family members to tragedy and have come to appreciate those who are still alive all the more. So why do I fight against this concept so much?
My main problem with embracing the no pain – no gain, it’s good for him, difficulty builds character attitude is that it absolves me from reaching out and helping.
There is a snarky, sneaky little voice that whispers absolution to me: No need to lift a finger, this is one of life’s little lessons for her to learn. Or, She made her bed, now she’ll need to lie in it.
If the hungry family is experiencing what is “good” for them, why should I offer food? If the crying child at recess is building character, why would other kids need to be coached in how to show love? If the betrayed wife crying into her pillow is drawing closer to God because of her pain, who am I to try to stop it?
Suffering happens: Yes
We can grow from it: Yes
How do I grow from it? By experiencing love and support during it.
What is my responsibility when I see others suffer? Love them.
Why are there so many who seem to create a vacant space around fellow suffer-ers? Why do women in divorce feel as if they’ve lost their husband and their best friends in one fell swoop? Why does a mother grieving her baby’s death feel so alone in her pain? Why do bullied helpless children see other parents and teachers awkwardly look the other way? Why do out-of-work men feel as if they have a contagious disease? These dark times could be lessened with a little love.
Through support during hardship, I learned about unconditional love, grace, mercy and forgiveness. These were the lessons I needed to know. When there was no safety net and the bottom appeared to be cold, lonely and with no outstretched hand to hold, all I learned was to expect suffering. There was never redemption in the heartache.
But each time love entered…now, that was another story ending altogether. I guess it’s my job to look at my own difficulties and recovery to figure out what they can teach me – about God, myself and other people. When others are suffering, my job is to extend myself and alleviate as much of it as possible.