“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Mother Teresa
“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional”. Haruki Murakami
Yesterday, I wrote about the healing power of volunteering, that is, serving others in some way. The paradox I discussed was that we can live a fuller, richer life by “giving our life” in the service of others. This is not a dramatic statement. One does not need to become Mother Teresa in order to live a richer life. However, we do become healthier and happier as we serve others in volunteering.
It is typical for me to give homework to clients that includes reaching out in service to others. This enhances self-esteem, and it makes my clients’ world just a little bigger than it used to be. The social interaction involved is important, and the sense of satisfaction is powerful. It helps to enhance meaning for many to step away from personal problems and enter the world of others who may be suffering in a different way.
Pain is universal, but the decision to suffer is optional. Murakami’s quote above outlines this principle. Part of the human experience is pain, both physical and emotional. Yet we can decide how to handle that pain. We can recognize it, but not give in to it. We can help transcend our current pain by deciding to alleviate the pain of others.
In his book Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, Phillip Yancey told a story of a group of displaced men in France after World War II. They were wandering streets, begging, stealing, and generally giving up on themselves. They were living meaningless lives of bare subsistence. Then a priest encountered them, and challenged them to live beyond themselves and see the suffering children all around them- children who were hungry, barefoot, and destitute. Some of the men were deeply shamed and decided to start caring for those even more desperate than themselves. That eventually started a ministry that served homeless children who had been displaced by the war. Those men found dignity and worth by reaching beyond their own pain and serving others.
Obviously, not all volunteering decisions are as robust as that story, but the principle remains. Healing of our own needs and our own spirit is often started by serving the needs of others.
Prayer: Lord, you have given us the capacity to help heal the hurts of others. Thank you for this plan, Amen.