Remember that REM song “Everybody Hurts,” well it is true. We all suffer and go through hard times. That’s the bad news. It doesn’t matter if you are a good person or a bad person, how well you planned for the future, or how well you have taken care of yourself, or how religious you are or aren’t; bad things just happen. The good news is that good things happen to everyone as well.
I will confess that I have trouble knowing anymore whether something is a good thing or a bad thing. Back in 2000, I met an amazing girl who I thought was going to be the one. After a series of unfortunate events I end up in prison for ten years because of her. So what seemed to be a good thing turned into a horrible thing. Or was it? While I hated every moment I was locked up, the experience changed my life for the better. I turned to God, and grew much closer to Him. I learned how to be content, if not happy, with very little. I don’t take the little things for granted anymore, and have so much more appreciation for life. I love life now. Also I met the woman I am engaged to be married to! So what seemed like the worst thing turned out to be a good thing. So I have given up trying to decide what is “good” and what is “bad”. I just really don’t know anymore.
Of course I am speaking of individual experience here, there are many things in this world that are truly evil, and ultimately good.
It may seem like not knowing would be a bad thing. We like to understand everything and label it. It’s just human nature and it gives us some semblance of control. Not knowing, however, is one of the great gifts that pain gives us. To be immersed in mystery can be scary at first, but over time it gave me a great sense of peace. It takes the pressure off. I realized I don’t have to know whether an experience is good or bad, because ultimately I had no way of knowing. All I had to do was keep going, and be open to the experience.
I also realized I don’t have to look for the spiritual lesson in everything. While almost everything has a lesson, I haven’t figured out a single one. In fact when I think I have, I usually turn out to be very long. No, spiritual lessons are given, not figured out.
One of the biggest lessons I have learned through suffering, is that I am not in control. It was amazing how hard that one was for me, even being in prison. You would think that would be an easy one for prisoners, but no we are a stubborn lot. But we are not in control of anything, no matter how much you might think you are. Take my grandfather. He is the very image of the family patriarch. He worked hard his whole life to provide a better life for his children. Then his children all went off their own ways, especially my mother. This caused some friction, but he still held onto his belief in his ability to control things. We grandchildren blew that apart. I am the oldest, so I was the first to screw up. Going to prison was a huge disappointment to him, but he dealt with it. Then one of my younger cousins went to prison. That coupled with my grandmother’s declining health, made something crack. He went through a deep depression. He thought he could fix everything with our family, but he couldn’t and he couldn’t deal with that. Last New Year’s day, my grandmother passed away. I went and stayed with him for a couple of months so he wouldn’t be alone and during that time I got to know him better than I ever have before. I saw something in him I never saw before, fear. He had always been afraid. That was why he worked so hard and why money seemed to be so important to him. He felt that money gave him some security in the world, and as a child in Oklahoma during the Great Depression I can see why he would think that way. Now a year later I see a different man. I don’t know what he has gone through, but he is happy. I can see that he has let go. He seems to realize that he isn’t in control, and even better he now realizes that’s ok. We went to dinner the other night and he brought his new girlfriend and he was almost giddy. I was so happy for him.
The point is that pain and suffering can give us gifts. They leave us more free, more open, more available. We learn real gratitude and appreciation for what we have. These don’t usually come until the pain passes. They don’t come in the middle of the dark night, but instead with the coming of the dawn.