That is a line from the back cover of a book on my shelf. It is talking about the author of the book. And now for the surprise, the book is titled, A Grace Disguised. As you can guess, the book is about the author’s journey in coming to see his suffering, with all its pain and tears, as just that, a grace disguised.
Without giving too much of the book away, I wanted to share a passage from the book. I remembered the day I read it and have benefitted from its wisdom ever since. In the passage, the author, Gerald Sittser, explains how comparing our sufferings with one another can be one of the most harmful things we can do to ourselves and others in suffering.
We tend to qualify and compare suffering and loss. We talk about the numbers killed, the length of time spent in the hospital, the severity of abuse, the degree of family dysfunction, the difficulty and inconvenience of illness, the complexity of details during divorce, or the strings of bad luck. I have done so myself. After the accident I found myself for the first time on the receiving end of this process. The newspapers covered the story for several days running. I received hundreds of telephone calls, thousands of cards and letters. I became an instant celebrity – someone whose loss could not be imagined or surpassed. Consequently, I often heard comments like, “Three generations killed in one accident!” Or, “All the important women in your life gone, except for poor Catherine!” And most frequently, “I know people who have suffered, but nothing compared to you. Yours is the worst loss I have ever heard about.”
But I question whether experiences of such sever loss can be quantified and compared. Loss is loss, whatever the circumstances. All losses are bad, only bad in different ways. No two losses are ever the same. Each loss stands on its own and inflicts a unique kind of pain…
His conclusion, is well worth reading slowly and carefully. Pray you never forget it.
The very attempt we often make in quantifying losses only exacerbates the loss by driving us to two unhealthy extremes. On the one hand, those coming out on the losing end of the comparison are deprived of the validation they need to identify and experience the loss for the bad thing it is. They sometimes feel like the little boy who just scratched his finger but cried too hard to receive much sympathy. Their loss is dismissed as unworthy of attention and recognition. On the other hand, those coming out on the winning end convince themselves that no one has suffered as much as they have, that no one will ever understand them, and that no one can offer lasting help. They are the ultimate victims. So they indulge themselves with their pain and gain a strange kind of pleasure in their misery.
Whose loss is worse? The question begs the point. Each experience of loss is unique, each painful in its own way, each as bad as everyone else’s but also different. No one will ever know the pain I have experienced because it is my own, just as I will never know the pain you may have experienced. What good is quantifying loss? What good is comparing? The right question to ask is not, “Whose is worse?” It is to ask, “What meaning can be gained from suffering, and how can we grow through suffering?” That is the question I want to explore…(Taken from A Grace Disguised, pp. 33, 38).
In a world filled with tears, may we never forget this wisdom. Instead of comparing our suffering to others’ or vice versa, let us bear one another’s burdens and together look to the one who promises to wipe all our tears away.