Scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed today, I see many people posting self-help things on how to xyz, or videos with the title “If this doesn’t make you put down your smartphone, nothing will.” I feel a rise of emotion as I often do when something touches on a nerve. Because I have been striving more and more to put down my phone and be present. And being moderately successful at winning the battle. And I begin to wonder why this stuff bugs me so much when I see it. And as I soul-searched for the answer, I think I found it.
I am MUCH more likely to accept input about how to navigate my struggle from a person that I KNOW has been there. And honestly, more often than not, a person who is still struggling, but perhaps having varied degrees of success in their struggle. When someone overcomes quickly, I doubt how much they were having trouble to begin with. When a person posts something or suggests what my “problem” is when that problem is something they have never personally dealt with or had difficulty being free from, all credibility with me is lost. And the suggestions get filed in my brain under the category of “judgmental” or “does not feel my true pain.”
In a similar vein, empathy is much more soothing to me than sympathy. I lost my dad a few weeks ago to a long struggle with addiction and all the physical ramifications of that struggle. As I navigate the grief and loss and complicated mourning process that comes with the loss of a parent in that way, I find others who have lost a parent they had a complicated relationship with to be those who bring me the most comfort. The “clean” grief I have dealt with before from the loss of a much-loved elderly grandparent does not compare with what I feel in the wake of his death. And only those who have been there can truly understand and offer the “I’ve been there” that makes me feel less alone and less crazy and less odd in my process of sadness.
And as it often does, this thought process has led me deeper, to a place in my soul that lives in resentment of pain and loss and sorrow. To that corner of my heart that feels like life is unfair, and that love should not have to mean sadness. That joy shouldn’t just come after the long night of grieving, but should be foremost and unfettered and gleeful all the time. I know that is not realistic, but I think each of us has that small corner of our inner space that holds out hope of that perfection. Depending on how fully our needs for love and affection and unconditional acceptance were met as children, that wish exists at different levels of intensity in every person.
As much as I would like to escape from pain, I realize that those who bring me the most comfort in my pain would not have that empathy to offer if they themselves had not felt such pain. Which means that *I* would not have empathy to offer the ones in my life that I long to comfort and offer support to if *I* had not suffered pain and loss. And I would not have a voice into the struggles of others if I, too, did not struggle. Notice I said struggle in the present tense. I NEED to struggle, now, in order to offer support to others. Moments of victory and freedom are joyous and to be greatly desired. But the process of struggling also has great value. And my emotional muscles are built best by fighting another day. Seasons of rest are wonderful and I love and treasure them when they come. But I grow best when the struggle is real. When I walk through my sorrow to a deeper joy. When I struggle through my fear to a deeper trust. When I swim through the sea of doubt and depression to a place of choosing to believe and keep moving forward. And so I find great revelation in a scripture that previously annoyed me in the extreme:
James 1:2-4 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
I’m pretty sure it takes years of practicing this to get to that place of being complete. And to find the mentality of quickly counting troubles as an opportunity for anything. But today I’m feeling like I’m off to a good start. And someday, the pain that I’m feeling today will come to fruition in the way it is spoken of here:
2 Corinthians 1:4 He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.
I won’t pretend to fully understand why we suffer as we do. But I have felt His comfort firsthand. And it has often come through the empathy of others who have been where I am and survived. And so today, my struggle is very real. And I turn my face into the wind of sorrow with the hope in my heart that someday, I will be a comfort to someone who needs the insight, comfort and hope I gain from travelling this path of struggle. And today, that is enough.