Upon personal introspection, I have come to notice my immediate impulse to adopt a “sorry for you” face when first getting to know a person and I learn what seems to be sad about his or her life story.
I believe I do this for two reasons:
1) I want to be sympathetic to the situation, and
2) I need to counteract the initial shock I also experience when becoming aware of the struggles the person has dealt with in the past.
Since the beginning of September, I have been working to become more involved in my community. Through this effort, I have established new friendships with quite a diverse set of individuals. When I moved to New Jersey, I knew instantly that I had found a special place to live, but in this new chapter of getting to know my own community, I am witnessing how incredible it really is.
There are a few people who have made an extra impact on me, and I have been blessed to have the honor of learning more about them. Perhaps it is my lingering naivety about the world that still causes me to be surprised when I hear about the trials people experience. These people appear so happy I would never suspect that cancer, abuse, and even death are key elements in their lives. I suppose this just reaffirms the old saying that “you never know what another person is going through.”
After hearing these personal stories, I am instantly filled with greater admiration for these other people, and with sympathy that I express through my “sorry for you” face. During a recent conversation, I realized that this “sorry for you” attitude was not giving a new acquaintance any respect, which was truly deserved. Through that attitude, I was taking away the strength this person had spent so much time building as a result of tragic events. This new friend pointed out to me when she noticed my “sorry for you” face that everyone has issues to overcome and regardless of what those may be, life goes on and they need to deal with it.
I will forever be grateful to this friend of mine for calling attention to an obvious reality. When personal stories are told, it is not to gain sympathy but to share what makes the person relating them who he or she is. When I tell someone I have diabetes, I don’t want sympathy. I am simply letting the person in and allowing every part of me to be revealed, the good and the bad. I remember when I was diagnosed and faced with a choice. I could let diabetes dominate my life and cripple me, or I could acknowledge it and cope with it. Essentially I chose to learn how to make diabetes a part of my life. I had to or I would have been doomed to perpetual self-misery, since there is no cure for the condition.
One of the ways I have become more involved in my community is by attending a book club. The book of choice is Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. At the beginning of the book, he addresses moral law and how that gives evidence of a God and what kind of God He is.
“The Moral Law does not give us any grounds for thinking that God is ‘good’ in the sense of being indulgent, or soft, or sympathetic. There is nothing indulgent about the Moral Law. It is as hard as nails. It tells you to do the straight thing and it does not seem to care how painful, or dangerous, or difficult it is to do.”
~ C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
I gained a great deal of respect for C.S. Lewis in his approach to defining God. In this current age, people seek to find a “soft” God. They desire everything except pain and avoid it at all costs. They want rainbows and butterflies all the time, and forget the joy that comes through grappling with struggles and hardships. Society is neglecting this internal consciousness of moral law, through which we can grow closer to the Lord and learn more about Him. I have discovered the “hard as nails” nature of God is what makes joy in this life worth striving for. Through hardships and struggles, one can gain a greater reward in Heaven, which is better than the easy life filled with rainbows and butterflies on earth.