Thursday, April 19, 2007

Discovering "The Gift" in Trials and Afflictions

No one normally asks for pain, trials and afflictions. Yet when these rain down on us we can find some comfort in the truth that there is a gift to be found in the pain. For many it may be hard to find but if we look deep enough we can usually find the gift.

When someone is ill and in the hospital sometimes families reunite and connect in a way that is incredibly heartwarming. Other times someone asks for forgiveness and a relationship is restored due to the fact that someone may have only a few days to live.

If we look hard enough we can find that special gift that is waiting to be discovered. Many of my clients, who are participating in the 52 week domestic violence program, start the program thinking that being arrested was the worst thing that could have happened to them. Yet when many of them graduate from the program they say that having been arrested was the best thing that could have happened to them because they might have done something worse to their wives or partners. Many of them also are grateful that they have been able to learn to handle their anger, change their beliefs and respect others with the tools they learned in the program. Some of them go on to teach their children what they have learned or other acquaintances who are currently caught in the cycle of domestic violence.

In the one-act play "The Angel That Troubled the Waters" by Thornton Wilder, a physician travels periodically to a healing pool to be healed of his sadness and despair. He hopes to be the first in line to be healed, as is the tradition. Finally an angel appears and blocks his path just as he is about to enter the pool. The angel tells the physician that he is not to step into the pool and to draw back. The physician appeals earnestly to be considered but he is not allowed to pass.

As the conversation continues the angel finally says, "Without your wounds where would your power be? It is your melancholy that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men and women. The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In Love's service, only wounded soldiers can serve. Physician, draw back."

The man who was first in line and was healed after rejoicing turns and addresses the Physician: "Please come with me. It is only an hour to my home. My son is lost in dark thoughts. I do not understand him and only you have ever lifted his mood. Only an hour .... There is also my daughter: since her child died, she sits in the shadow. She will not listen to us but she will listen to you."1

Many times we want to hide our wounds from others and pretend all is okay or erase the past. If the men and women that I work with in my domestic violence program did this then they would not be able to teach others from their experience and enlighten others to find freedom from distorted beliefs that lead to the destruction of families. Brennan Manning writes in his book Abba's Child, "In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive our community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others."

In our deepest grief we can find our greatest ministry. An ability to contribute to life in a powerful way because we can empathize with others in a way no one else can. May we look deep enough into our pain to discover the gift and not let the pain rob us of something that can enrich our lives and the lives of others.

Read a story of a client of mine whose life was changed and who had the courage to share his testimonial. The story is called "MAAP Grad Gets His Life Back."

1. Thornton Wilder, The Angel That Troubled the Waters and Other Plays (New York: Coward-McCann, 1928) page 20.

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