I despise the platitude plastered across social media memes: “Hard times either make you bitter or better”.
It makes it sound so simple.
As if all I have to do is make a single choice between two equally available paths.
Enduring deep pain and unchangeable circumstances requires continued commitment to face the fork in the road over and over, and to choose well each time.
Every day I am forced to confront my heart’s tendency to turn inward and embrace loneliness and isolation in an attempt to protect myself from further and perhaps greater pain.
Each moment I have to choose whether I will lean into despair or hold onto hope.
And I just don’t agree that there are only two possible outcomes of a life that endures hardship or grief.
Bitterness is certainly an option.
If I allow myself to rehearse the reasons why my son should not have died, why my family doesn’t deserve this grief, why my life is so much harder than it should be–then the case for bitterness grows strong and becomes attractive. I can pack my briefcase full of evidence and pull it out at every opportunity when confronted with yet another “happy moment” splashed on Facebook.
Bitterness is always a temptation, and I must refuse it everyday.
But “better” implies that I lacked something that I have now gained.
Better diminishes my grief and gives the impression that I’d do it all over again because my painful experience has wrought amazing results.
Losing my son, regardless of what I have learned, is not the same as sticking to a diet or working up to a marathon run or getting a master’s degree.
The subtle danger in declaring myself “better” is that I can decide I’m a measuring rod for others to judge their grief journey. Or I can become like the reformed smoker who forgets how many tries it took to quit or how hard it was to finally stop smoking and instead mocks those who are still struggling.
I am not “better”.
I am broken.
I am bankrupt of any illusion that I am the captain of my ship. I understand by very, very painful experience that there are no earthly guarantees life will turn out according to plan. I embrace with both hands the notion that the most precious gift is people we love and no matter how long we have with them, it will never be enough.
I can’t claim a final victory of faith over doubt, of good out of bad, of lessons learned from effort expended.
extend my empty hands and hurting heart to be filled with grace and mercy.
I choose love and refuse hate.
I continue to engage this broken world from my broken perspective and offer compassion and understanding to those who are broken too.
Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassions, and God of all encouragement; who encourages us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to encourage those who are in any tribulation whatever, through the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged of God.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 DARBY