Sunday, December 26, 2021
New York Times op-ed: What Do You Say to the Sufferer?, by David Brooks:
There is always a lot of suffering in the world, and over the past few years we have seen high tides of despair. The sources of people’s pain may be different — grief, shame, exclusion, heartbreak, physical or mental health issues — but they almost always involve some feeling of isolation, of being cut off from others. ...
[W]e often can’t control what happens to us in life, that we can control only how we respond to it. If we respond to terrible circumstances with tenacity, courage, unselfishness and dignity, then we can add a deeper meaning to life. One can win small daily victories over hard circumstances. ... Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”
The Bible is filled with characters who are at times overwhelmed with life and wish they could be rid of it — Jonah, Elijah, Job and even Moses. They are so central to the biblical story because desolation is part of the human experience, part of the bricks and mortar out of which we construct our lives.
Suffering had such profound and unpredictable effects on those characters, as it does on all of us. Suffering can make people self-centered, loveless, humorless and angry. But we all know cases where suffering didn’t break people but broke them open — made them more caring toward and knowledgeable about the suffering of others. And the old saying that we suffer our way to wisdom is not wrong. We often learn more from the hard times than the happy ones.
I asked a pastor what he says to people in pain. One thing he says is, “I want more for you.” I repeat that sentence to you not with any illusion that the world does what I want, but simply as an expression of good will, an acknowledgment of how we all sit with our common fragility, and a recognition that life is unpredictable. It changes. In many pilgrims’ progress, the slough of despond gives way to enchanted ground.