Monday, April 2, 2012

Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope

By: Kyle Elden

In my job at St. Louis County as a Child Protection social worker I have the privilege to be on the planning committee for the Health and Human Services Conference. This is a rather large proportioned conference which draws a couple thousand people to attend. St. Louis County has been responsible for bringing in renown speakers such as Rabbi Kushner author of When Good Things Happen to Bad People. This year, thanks to Mary Bridget Lawson, we are blessed to have Sister Joan D. Chittister, a best-selling author, internationally known lecturer, and the executive director of Benetvision: A Resource and Research Center of Contemporary Spirituality, as our keynoter. The title of our conference this year is to be Scarred By Struggle, Transformed By Hope. This title comes from the title of one of Sister Joan D. Chittister's books. When I heard scarred by struggle, transformed by hope, it struck me. This title, this concept completely highlights the dichotomy of life. It doesn't gloss over suffering and struggle, which are inevitable parts of our life. However, it also includes a glimmer, a promise: HOPE. Here is an excerpt from the book:

There is no one who does not have to choose sometime, someway, between giving up and growing stronger as they go along. And yet if we give up in the midst of struggle, we never find out what the struggle would have given us in the end. If we decide to endure it to the end, we come out of it changed by the doing of it. It is a risk of mammoth proportions. We dare the development of the self. Life forges us in struggle. From one end of life to another we duel and joust, contest and dispute, rebel and revolt – against forces outside ourselves, yes, but against tensions within us as well.

I have seen person after person broken by the breaking open of life’s great fissures. And I have also seen them survive. I have learned through them that all struggle is not destructive. I have come to understand from them that it is not struggle that defeats us, it is our failure to struggle that depletes the human spirit.

All struggle is not loss. All those who struggle do not give way to depression, to death of the spirit, to dearth of heart. We not only can survive struggle but, it seems, we are meant to survive in new ways, with new insights, with new heart.

Struggle is a part of life. In fact, struggle is an unavoidable part of life. It comes with birth and it takes its toll at every stage of development. In each of them we strive for something new at the price of something gained. We tussle between the dark and the daylight moments of the soul. If we stop struggling, we may die. But if we struggle and lose, we stand to dies as well. So how are we to think of struggle? Is it loss or is it gain?

Life itself is the answer. If not one can escape struggle, then it must serve some purpose in life. It is a function of the spirit. It is an organic part of the adventure of development that comes only through the soul-stretching process of struggle. No other dimension of life can possibly offer it because no other process in life requires so deeply of us. Struggle bores down into the deepest part of the human soul like cirrus tendrils, bringing new life, contravening old truisms. The problem is that struggle requires the most of us just when we expect it least.

Wow, I love this. How often I've looked at myself and others and wondered what the difference is in this person's life, in this person's unique response to the difficulty life sometimes bears, and recognize the choice we have to succumb to depression, darkness, and death of the spirit or that of expansion, growth and wholeness. How often do we see ourselves and others exist in a limited form of the potential that exists. I've said to myself on many occasions "you are so much greater than what you are living out, putting up with, existing in!" When we are amidst struggle it is perplexing, unbearable and downright painful. However, when I have come out on the other side of struggle I look back, and although I may never want to live through that same experience again, I am amazed by how much I learned, how much growth took place, how much I developed, was changed for the better through that struggle.

Therefore, no matter what the "struggle" experience(s) you may reflect back on, or be amidst, it is not in vain. This Leonard Cohen quote, "Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in" speaks beautifully to this truth. Those cracks in our lives can be where the "light" gets in if we so allow it to shape us in that way. For me, I can honestly say that I am grateful for the struggles I've endured. Some of the most valuable things that have been instilled in me as a result are deeper relationship with God, humility, knowing how to love wholly, not taking people for granted, treating others as I wish to be treated, and the list goes on.

Sometimes we view other people at fault for our struggle, our pain, our heartache. Not that the actions of others don't impact or hurt us, that is absolutely true. But the manner in which we are able to respond that that is paramount. In the Bible Matthew 5:43-45 tells of of the radical message of Jesus “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor' and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. or Luke 6:28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. One of the greatest lessons I've learned through the struggle of forgiveness is that anyone that has hurt or disappointed me has not done so with malicious intent. It is through having compassion and understanding, love and forgiveness, and blessings pouring out for that person that I have been freed of the toxic fruits of bitterness, anger and wishes for ill will. I have been filled with peace and joy and experienced unconditional love. I am able to thus run my fingers over these scars from the struggles of existence and be truly transformed by the hope that resounds.

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