If you remember back in grade school standing in line waiting to be chosen by the assigned team captains for a team in sports. Almost every time, I would be picked last for a team. Because I was the skinniest and one of the shortest boys, I was almost always the last one chosen. I was nicknamed Conan (from movie Conan the Barbarian, the god with a great muscular physique). I hated that I was skinny and short. I hated all the slight comments I heard spoken about me from other kids, intentional or not. Gym class was never fun for me. Being singled-out last place can affect how a person views oneself. I developed a less-than-ideal view of myself. I endured this all throughout my elementary and even into my high school years. I didn’t enjoy grade school. I did develop some empathy for other kids with lower views of themselves or who were picked on.
I know others have suffered much more than I have but I want to relate this to what I’m about to share here. There are Christians (and other religious minorities) who suffer due to their faith within anti-Christian societies. People languish in prisons, sometimes unjustly, like political and religious prisoners. Women have been abused, raped and used in sex trafficking People, including children are inflicted as innocent victims of wars, bombings, and ethnic-cleansing, and boys are forced into becoming soldiers. People suffer in silence with bouts of depression, mental illness, and thoughts of suicide. There is serious suffering happening in the world today much more severe than tauntings in school yards, but nevertheless, words can intensely hurt too and adolescent teens know this.
I have learned throughout the latter years of my life that suffering shapes a person. It can shape us in a bad way; and it can also shape us in a good way. Either way, the shaping of a person can always result in something good. There is always something we can be grateful for.
As we experience healing from our life’s hurts, and allow God to use us, the suffering we have experienced can become a blessing to others. Little do others know that the person who has suffered can become a giver of empathy and understanding to another who is experiencing suffering in one’s life.
As a stone has been shaped by water and heat and pressure, one’s own suffering through the pressures of this life can shape us to increase our capacity to have more empathy for others. In order for God to use a person, we must allow God to heal us and rebuild us from the inside so that over time, we can develop an inner resilience. As we mature and find healing and strength, God will shape us into vessels that God may find useful. This will then enable us to journey with them and enter into their loneliness and desolation. To do this, requires healing from one’s own past hurts. This is inner spiritual resilience.
People who have not gone through the pressure of being shaped by suffering, and experience healing will find it difficult to empathize and understand the pain and hurts of others. Lashing back at others and those who hurt us will still be a natural reaction from our past hurts. But if you have suffered, you can consider it a part of the joy you receive when you can offer of yourself empathy and understanding to the person who is suffering.
Today, I work as a chaplain and minister to others who are hurting. In looking back, I realize today that God used my suffering and increased my capacity to empathize with people’s pain. Bringing a small measure of empathy and understanding into people’s lives is what gives me some consolation. Pressure and heat shapes a stone. So pressure and suffering shapes a person’s capacity to bring empathy into other people’s lives.