How we treat people on a day-to-day basis matters. Sometimes it is almost impossible to know when people are struggling. In the midst of great adversity -- some that I can barely comprehend -- many people stand tall, trying to be positive, acting as if everything is OK. Yet inside, they are fragile, weak and minute-by-minute struggling to hold it together.
In my opinion, to say "sometimes life is hard" is a gross understatement. There are times when we get knocked down, and then there are times when we get knocked down and continually kicked. The hardest part about this is that we never know when this is going to happen to us. One minute, life may seem to be great, the next minute we may find ourselves in inconsolable personal suffering.
It may be that the uncertainty of suffering is the worse part. When we lose all sense of control, we are left feeling powerless, helpless, vulnerable, or even useless. Anyone who has ever been overwhelmed with grief to the point where they have cried uncontrollably knows exactly what I am talking about. True grief seems to come from somewhere that is lodged deep in our being.
I once had an amazing neighbor named Steve who I witnessed go through such suffering. In a short time, he experienced the death of his mother, the death of his 12-year-old cat and a diagnosis of terminal lung and liver cancer. When he recounted to me what he felt when these things happened to him, he told me that he was so amazed that -- out of everything -- his cat dying seemed to be the tipping point for him. He had come to terms with his own mortality and even that of his mother, but the cat was the proverbial straw. Soon, he felt helpless.
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Steve turned to God for solace, affirming that it was only in Jesus that he had the strength to move forward. He went on to live an amazing life, later getting married and inspiring a whole community with his selfless love and service for others even in spite of his immense personal suffering.
Eventually, we all face a reality like Steve's, even if ours might not seem as imminent. Fortunately though, we do have some say as to how everything plays out in the end.
Here is how: Every action that we take in life is akin to throwing a pebble in a pond. That action has a rippling effect that goes on and on after its initial happening. Day after day, we make our ripples in life, and those waves -- big and little -- impact others in their path. This means that often we find ourselves being affected by other people's waves as well. Some of those ripples are positive and some are negative.
The interesting thing about this cycle of causation is that we seem to be able to absorb negative actions, if we so choose, and send them back out as positive ones. We have the opportunity of saying a positive word of encouragement to the downtrodden. We have the option to journey on with the brokenhearted sharing in their pain and lightening their load, even if just a little. We have the choice to shine brightly in the dimly lit reaches of creation even when we are ignorant of the suffering around us.
And this effort, I dare say, matters. It matters because when people are fragile and weak, when they are using every ounce of their existence just to keep it together, that rippling wave of encouragement helps them to know that they aren't alone in their grief, and that fact sparks hope.
The Rev. Christopher Benek is the associate pastor of family ministries at Providence Presbyterian Church. Read his blog at www.christopherbenek.com.