Life is really hard sometimes.
There are times when all of the encouragement in the world doesn’t seem to help, times when it feels like the only emotions available are rage or grief or numbness, times when starting another day feels like getting in the ring with Mohammed Ali.
Maybe that's your story today.
Maybe that's been your story for a long time.
If that's you, I want you to know that it will get better. You will not always suffer. You will find healing and you will find people who will love you very much and you will have moments when life will be so good that your heart will feel like dancing right out of your chest. You are not a mistake. You are not a lost cause. It is good that you are alive and one day you will believe that.
But I also want to recognize that things might not get better right away. And I know that when people tell me, “This will be better someday, but you just need to wait,” I don't find their words very helpful.
So I want to give you more than just waiting.
I want to give you the chance to fight back.
In the olden days, people wrote legends of battles with monsters – dragons and hydras and sphinxes. Today we still have monsters; they just have names like depression and loneliness and addiction. Maybe you are locked in your own hard fight with one of these monsters, and maybe that fight is going to take some time to win.
But your own fight will help you fight for others.
Viktor Frankl, a survivor of Nazi concentration camps, said, “In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.” He found that people who fixated on escaping the camps tended to fall ill and die more easily.
But the people who created a meaning for themselves in the camp – through tending to other prisoners, creating art, or simply maintaining their dignity in the face of incredible suffering – were more likely to survive and even find moments of joy. Frankl said, “Those who have a 'why' to live can bear almost any 'how.'”
If you've forgotten your 'why', I want you to find it. I want you to remember that you matter very much and it is very good that you are alive and that your life has meaning.
And I want you to know that your suffering can have meaning, if you let it.
For me, my suffering taught me how to love other people better. My childhood of social rejection taught me to reach out to others on the outskirts – and eventually to write a social skills guide that helps readers find community. For one of my friends, surviving abuse led her into a career where she could help protect others. Another friend fills her writing with the healing wisdom that she learned from her pain.
For you, maybe your suffering will equip you to reach out to others who are suffering in a similar way. Maybe you will create art or music or writing that is beautiful and life-giving, because your suffering has taught you how to touch the deep places in a person's soul. Maybe someone will stay alive because you can sit with them and say, “I know what you're going through.”
Henri Nouwen once wrote, “The great illusion of leadership is to think that man can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there.”
Maybe today you are in a desert, and it feels like the sand will never end. You don't deserve that, and I don't know why sometimes it takes so long for things to get better.
But I do know that even if you can't leave your desert yet, you can be an oasis to someone in their own desert. I know that your words and your love and your presence have the potential to heal and to bring joy to others. And I hope that when you see your power to bring light into the life of others, some light will enter your life too.
I'm not saying that you should take care of others instead of taking care of yourself. But I am saying that your suffering is not meaningless, just as your life is not meaningless. Your suffering will teach you to love better, to create art that is truer and more beautiful, to be an agent of healing and light for people who are desperate for both.
For wanderers lost in a thirsty desert, you will provide relief and encouragement.
For weary warriors locked in battle with a fierce monster, you will be a stalwart comrade-in-arms.
And as you fight for others, you will find that you are worth fighting for, too.