“There is no growth without change, no change without loss and no loss without pain.” – Samuel Chand
One of the most painful, yet ultimately liberating, lessons I have learnt since being ill long term, is the potential suffering has it has to bring far more humility and compassion for others into our lives.
Anyone who has suffered from any debilitating chronic illness, a life changing disease or injury, or has gone through a season of suffering due to the loss of a family member, or other traumatic events, will tell you that it truly humbled them in a way normal life never can.
When things go wrong in our lives we crave to have normality back – as if it’s the most precious gift of all. We fondly remember how much easier life was, even on the ‘tough normal days,’ when we had our health or loved one and life was going ok.
But when you have faced some kind of personal tragedy, or some kind of deep suffering barges its way into your life, you soon learn how hard it is to lose what you perhaps took for granted before hand. You discover how much your confidence and coping mechanisms get crushed.
It is often only in suffering that we truly learn who we really are. We become more aware than ever of our many personal frailties and weaknesses.
We wonder if we truly have the strength to make it through.
It’s usually only when we see what ‘rock bottom’ truly looks like for ourselves, in all it’s darkness, pain and desolation, that we begin to understand how ‘rock bottom’ looks and feels for others.
When you meet people who have faced suffering like you, or even differently, but in a similar light to you, there is a knowing look shared between your eyes when you meet, or a deeper message running through the words when you talk. There is a heart connection that silently says, ‘Yes, I know…. life is so very tough sometimes…. I know what it’s like to be completely broken…. and I know what it’s like when you have no idea about what you are going to do make it through.’
“The beauty of humanity is that suffering can, if we let it, unite and draw us together in a way that nothing else can. It strips us of our titles and crafted exteriors and touches the heart. It has the power to break through masks, if we let it, because it touches who we really are.
And we all need that: Sometimes our hearts need to be exposed. Our weaknesses need to be seen.
Because it is then we realise that we are ALL just fragile humans. It is then we realise that we are ALL more similar than maybe we thought. It is then we know that we ALL face challenges and we ALL feel pain.”
I penned those words in one of the first blog posts that I crafted a year after we lost my Mum. It was a time of processing my thoughts and emotions, whilst trying to connect with others. Thankfully, I had already taken the time to walk myself through that difficult, but rewarding process of increased self-understanding, a few days before I embarked on my next, even bigger, encounter with pain and life changing suffering. I fell from a ladder and sustained a debilitating spinal CSF Leak that I still have today over two and a half years later.
It has been through this more recent journey, that has included walking through a different type of grief, that has taken me so much deeper into those same truths I wrote about then. Suffering does touch our hearts profoundly, it reaches to the core of our being. It strips back all the trappings of everyday life and reveals to us the things that really matter. Masks and pretence are thrown away, as we are pulled out of our comfort zones and realise that we cannot do this alone. Those of us who once considered ourselves rather strong and able, suddenly find that we are, in reality, far weaker than we ever imagined.
….. And it is truly humbling.
But that is why there are elements of suffering that we can also embrace, because often it makes us kinder and more compassionate people in the end. It stops us being so judgmental of others – it can actually level the playing field of life – as we truly see that we are ‘ALL just fragile humans.’
“In his delightful little book ‘Off the Sauce’, Lewis Meyer writes: If one could use only one word to describe the feeling of an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meeting, it would be love. Love is the only word I know that encompasses friendship, understanding, sympathy, empathy, kindness, honesty, pride, and humility. The kind of love I mean is the kind Jesus had in mind when he said, “Love one another.” Shoes might be shed, attention might be diverted, but there is a closeness between AAs, a closeness you seldom find anywhere. It is the only place I know where status means nothing. Nobody fools anybody else. Everyone is here because he or she made a slobbering mess of his or her life and is trying to put the pieces back together again. First things are first here…. I have attended thousands of church meetings, lodge meetings, brotherhood meetings—yet I have never found the kind of love I find at AA. For one small hour the high and mighty descend and the lowly rise. The leveling that results is what people mean when they use the word brotherhood.”
I read these words recently in a wonderful book by Brennan Manning called ‘Abba’s Child, The Cry Of The Heart For Intimate Belonging.’ They are such challenging words to us all. A profound reminder that it is only in the deeply humbling experience of coming to the end of ourselves, and truly realising how weak, broken, messed up, selfish, dysfunctional and ‘not good enough’ we ALL are, in our own ways, and being real and open about it to others. That it brings the ‘levelling’ that is desperately needed to show the deepest love, grace and humility to others too.
When you know the dark reality of ‘reaching the end of yourself’ you do find that ‘we are all more similar than we think.’ We are ALL humans who have weaknesses and insecurities, which become increasingly obvious when we are faced with an extremely difficult season of suffering.
Suffering exposes our many weaknesses, it makes us feel awkward and uncomfortable and can fill us with shame when we shockingly find that we lacked the ability to cope as we thought we should. But sometimes we must simply let it do its work in us. To embrace, rather than run from what it discovers, then face it, be real about it and look at what we can learn and how we can change. This is always the start of a deeper transformation that will make us kinder, more accepting and loving people.
“Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin
Do you not love the idea of a world where ‘status means nothing’ and nobody is trying to ‘fool anyone’ anymore with their masks, carefully crafted exteriors and pretence? When we are aware, honest and humble about our weaknesses as well as strengths, so that we can be kind and compassionate about an other’s as well.
“If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.” – The Bible*
Suffering helps us to see that maybe we were not quite as strong, good or important as we maybe once thought. It helps us to acknowledge and see our weaknesses – if we embrace it properly. Which will, in turn, hopefully take us on a new journey of self awareness. We then find that we have to accept the reality of where we are. Even with its many difficult and uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, as well as its multitude of insecurities and unknowns.
So that even in the midst of it we begin to see that even when we have hit rock bottom, it is not always such a bad thing to experience. Because then I will taste a bit more of that unique humility that is found there, I will know what it’s like to battle darkness face on. I might walk with a new limp where suffering took me down for a while. But ultimately I managed to get up and carry on regardless, even when the scars and wounds are still there.
It’s in the raw vulnerability of those real moments, when we can reach out our hand to another, and our eyes and words will meet in that place of unspoken heart to heart understanding. And it’s there we will find we can walk together through our storms; as equally broken, yet ironically stronger, kinder and wiser humans.
Until one day we find how much it has changed us.
And that is the moment we truly begin to see the wonder, humility and connection that can come from suffering…
… but only IF…
We choose to let it do it’s mysterious work deep within us, by finding the resolve keep seeing the beauty that still resides in its very painful midst.
“The beauty of humanity is that suffering can, if we let it, unite and draw us together in a way that nothing else can. It strips us of our titles and crafted exteriors and touches the heart.”
*Bible Verse from Galatians 6:3 NIV
For links to posts mentioned above and quoted: ‘A Year Ago Today: A Journey Through Grief And What I Have Learnt.’ and more about my Spinal CSF Leak: Living with A Spinal CSF Leak
Here is a short video that raises awareness of Spinal Fluid Leaks.