What's the worst thing that has happened to you?
Odd question, I know. But think about it for a moment - what is the worst thing that has happened to you?
Here are a few of the worst things that have happened to me -
* I was hit by a car when I was about six years old. I ran across the street without looking both ways and was struck by a car. My mother was on the other side of the street and saw it happen.
* Soon thereafter, I was bitten by a dog. I was out riding my bike with my brothers and a dog at a local gas station broke the chain that was holding it and bit me on my right butt cheek. Ouch.
* I hit my head on a cement block one summer when I was at camp. I was knocked unconscious and suffered a concussion. I spent two days in the hospital.
* I seriously contemplated suicide after breaking up with someone who meant the world to me. My despair was so deep that I carried a bottle of aspirin with me 24 hours per day for a week or two, so that I'd be ready if "the right moment" presented itself.
* My father passed away in 2001.
* In 2008, my daughter was diagnosed with an illness that she will deal with for the rest of her life.
There are certainly a few other things that are a little too personal to write in such a public place.
But this short list will suffice for the moment.
What I have learned as the years of my life have passed is that every single one of my worst moments has served as a means through which I can help someone who is facing a similar challenge.
The lessons I learned while sitting with my father during his last weeks, days, and hours have helped me to listen, to offer comfort, and to be quietly and persistently present when people I know go through the loss of their parents and other loved ones.
The time I spent crouched on my bed in the middle of the night during my sophmore year in college, crying into my pillow, clutching that bottle of aspirin has helped me to comfort other people when they are feeling the agony of abandonment and wallowing through the deep waters of shame.
My daughter's battle with her illness is helping me support another mother whose son has received the same diagnosis. I'm encouraging her to cry, to journal, to mourn the loss of her old life, and to gradually move into a place of accepting the new constellation of their family and the new ways in which they must live their lives. Mostly, I'm listening to her story, reading her words, and encouraging her to feel everything she's feeling, say what she needs to say, and not feel guilty for any part of this painful process.
Don't get me wrong; I wish I hadn't suffered through any of these terrible times. At one point when my daughter was in the hospital back in 2008, my husband told one of the doctors that he was grateful for the compassionate and competent care she was receiving. One part of me agreed with him - I too was grateful that she was being taken care of so well, but most of me wished I had never met any of those people. I wished that she had never gotten sick and that we had never had to darken the door of any hospital, ever. I wish my father hadn't been diagnosed with lung cancer. I wish there could have been an easier and gentler way for that guy to have released me from our relationship - other than me seeing him with someone else and knowing that it was more than just two friends hanging out together. I wish none of that had happened to me.
But if we must suffer, and it seems that we all must suffer at some point in our wild, precious, and short lives, we should do so with the expectation that these lessons, these tears, these sorrows, these heartbreaks will make us more compassionate, less judgmental, more honest, less selfish people.
Someone once said something like: Treat everyone you meet with tenderness, for everyone is fighting a great battle.
We've all got something.
We've all suffered deeply.
We all continue to suffer.
May we all be willing and able to convert our worst moments, the worst things that happen to us, into places from which we reach out in service and compassion, with both sympathy and empathy, offering the priceless gift of our attentive presence to everyone around us, because we are all either in the midst of or looking back at one of the worst things that has ever happened to us.
The Apostle Paul wrote it this way: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.