When we find ourselves immersed in struggle, we find ourselves trafficking in more than the superficial, more than the mundane. That’s why maturity has very little to do with age. That’s why wisdom has more to do with experience that it does with education. We begin to feel in ways we could never feel before the struggle began. Before a death of someone I myself have loved, someone else’s grief is a simple formality. We don’t know what to say and we don’t know why we’re saying it because we never needed to have someone say it to us. Before feeling humiliated ourselves we can never know how painful the daily paper can be to those who find themselves in it with no way to defend themselves to the great faceless and anonymous population out there that is using it to judge them. Silently, harshly, even gleefully, perhaps. Until my own reputation is at stake, I can look at another person’s shame and never have the grace to turn away.
After we ourselves know struggle, we begin to weigh one value against another, to choose between them and the future, rather than simply the present, as our measure. Some things, often quite common things, we come to realize—peace, security, love—are infinitely better than the great things —the money, the position, the fame—that we once wanted for ourselves. Then we begin to make different kinds of decisions.
We begin to see beyond the present moment to the whole scheme of things, to the very edges of the soul, to the core of what is desirable as well as what is doable. The bright young man who had worked the pit in the futures market, planned a big international career in trading, and worked hard to start his own business, changed jobs after the collapse of the World Trade Center. He stood in shock a thousand miles away as television cameras watched the building go down with dozens of his friends in it. All of them young, like he was. All of them bright, like he was. All of them on their way up, like he was. But to where? He had lost too many of his hard-driving young friends, he said later, to ignore the meaning of life any longer. He quit his job in the center of Bigtime. He went back to Smalltown, USA, to hunt with his dogs and fish the streams and buy the average family home in a small cul-de-sac in a local suburb.
No one comes out of struggle, out of suffering, the same kind of person they were when they went in. It’s possible, of course, to come out worse than we were when we went into the throes of pain. Struggle can turn to sour in us, of course. But it is equally possible, if we choose to reflect on it, to come out stronger and wiser than we were when it began. What is not possible, however, is to stay the same.
—from Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope by Joan Chittister (Eerdmans)