In speaking about his lack of interest in harsh condemnation about sins he was not tempted to in his spiritual autobiography Surprised By Joy, C.S. Lewis makes the following quote that would be well-remembered by those who are prone to be harsh with those who struggle against sins that have no attraction for the one condemning: “I will not indulge in futile philippics against enemies I never met in battle (84). Of course, as I read those lines I was bleary-eyed and unable to sleep because my foot was in agony, and being the sort of person who does not like to waste even feeling terrible and being unable to sleep, I did a good deal of reading and went to work early, figuring that if I was going to go to work sleep deprived and with a hurting foot that I should do it with as few other cars on the road as possible, lest the slightly slower reaction time due to my foot cause greater difficulty.
One of the great purposes of our struggles in life is to grant us empathy. I am the sort of person who is continually in motion, who struggles to be at rest, for even where my body is still my mind is going and going without end. It is therefore some sort of poetic justice that from time to time I should be reminded of the struggles to move, to remember that when every step is painful that one does not make unnecessary steps, and that my hobbling can either make me a curmudgeon who is nasty to those around me because of the pain I am in, or it can make me compassionate for others who struggle to move around, less impatient at those who do not move at my normally rapid pace, because I know all too well what it is like to want to move far faster than one does and be completely unable to do so. The lesson is a useful one, even if I would rather not have crystals in the joint of my right big toe . Not all have the same sort of lessons, but there is a common larger point that encourages us to have compassion on those around us because their road is not our own.
A while ago I reflected on the death of one of the more obscure members of the band Pink Floyd , whose bandmates, too late, realized that they had wasted productive years of creativity by poor communication, and that they would no longer be able to work any longer with their bandmate because his earthly journey was done. There is a strange paradox with time; on the one hand the time we waste cannot be restored to us, and the opportunities we miss may never come our way again. We may wait for people to communicate something to us, and wait in vain because nothing in the ether will prompt them to say what we feel needs to be said. On the other hand, though, as beings created with eternity in our hearts, the time we waste on this earth is not in itself of any trouble with eternal life waiting for those who enter into the Family of God. And there we will have an eternity to make things right that could have been done better on this earth but for our mulish stubbornness and our lack of ability in relating to others.
What we ought to gain most of all from our struggles is a sense of empathy for others. In every life there is some element of struggle. Even those who have the fame and money that so many long for have their own struggles—the difficulty of trusting relationships with those who spend months on tour or pretending to make love to other people on movie sets and stages, the oppressive lack of privacy when one’s every movie is capable of being recorded and shared with the whole world. On the other hand, no life, no matter how difficult, is entirely bereft of some comforts and of some value in encouragement to others. I cannot help but think that there will come a day when the barren who long for little ones will care for those little ones whose parents had no compassion or interest in them whatsoever. Those who long for what others take for granted understand a great deal of what is futile about our contemporary life.
Nor is this a new phenomenon; it has always been this way. When we read in the Epistle to the Romans that all things work together for the good for those who are called according to God’s will , it is easy to think of it as hollow comfort for those who are suffering, but instead it is a deep challenge. We look at the evils of our world, and wonder how they could work together for the good at all. For reasons I do not understand, the nights where I am wracked more than usually with insomnia are those nights where I am able to provide encouragement to other people who are dealing with things I would not even know about. Likewise, I find that the formative life experiences I have dealt with give me a great deal of empathy for those I interact with who come from the same sort of brokenness, empathy that keeps me from being too frustrated with the shared patterns and struggles that we have, that allow me to be gentle with hyper children, and patient with older but no less frustrating people. For as we hobble on in life, we do not hobble alone. Some people’s pains are easy to recognize, and some people’s struggles cannot be hidden, while others at least appear to be well put together on the outside when they are not. Yet we all hobble together, and let our hobbling not go to waste, for we are all blessed when we use what we experience and what we suffer to reduce the weight of suffering on those whom we are around as time and opportunity permit.
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