Suffering Changes Us

We are changed, sometimes in unexpected ways, by the problems of life.

One of Canada’s most famous physicians was Dr. William Osler. Many stories are told of this beloved doctor, but one of the most revealing comes from World War I.

Friends recalled the day when Osler was working in one of Britain’s military hospitals during the war. He was called out of the wards during his daily rounds to be given an important message; his own son had been killed on the fields of France.

Stunned by the news, he still came back to pick up his rounds. For a long period afterward, he was noticeably different. And those who knew him best said that he changed as a physician that day. The cheerful note was gone from his voice and never again did friends hear the tune which he so often whistled as he went from ward to ward.

Though these things never returned, something eventually came to take their place. Everyone noticed a new compassion in his care of the soldiers who each day streamed in from the battlefield. Before, he had the professional concern of the physician, so important to the practice of medicine; now there was an added discernible note of a personal compassion, like that of a father for his son….

Like most people who have experienced such losses, Osler must have spent considerable time in grief. But as he healed and integrated the loss into his life, it left him a different person. 

Pain will do that. It changes us, often in unexpected ways. It can leave us angry and broken, or, as in the case of Osler, it can bring forth qualities such as compassion or tenderness. It is as if the physician channeled his pain into energy and love for others, caring for them as he would care for his own child.

Helen Keller, who found a way to thrive though she went through life both sightless and deaf, knew plenty about suffering. She wisely said, “The struggle of life is one of our greatest blessings. It makes us patient, sensitive, and Godlike. It teaches us that although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”

Yes, the world is full of suffering. We can’t avoid it no matter how hard we try. But it is also full of examples of people, like you and me, getting through it. Those who overcome great challenges will be changed, and often in unexpected ways. For our struggles enter our lives as unwelcome guests, but they bring valuable gifts. And once the pain subsides, the gifts remain. 

These gifts are life’s true treasures, bought at great price, but cannot be acquired in any other way.

And so, we pray: Father, I am sure there is not one person who want to suffer… none of us invites it into our lives in order that we may be blessed with spiritual gifts. We wonder why we can’t have these gifts without the price of suffering being paid. If sickness comes into our lives, help us to use it as a gift of the spiritual. Amen.

Grace and Peace

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