The Outcome of Pain

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” – Isaiah 53:5

I grew up in what one might consider a proto-typical American family of four. I had one sibling, a sister who was two years older than I. My father was the breadwinner while my mother left teaching to stay home and raise the kids. We were happy (at least I knew I was) and why wouldn’t we be – this was the good stuff.

I remember Christmas being quite wonderful in our family. We were hardly religious, but celebrating Christmas was just a big deal. I knew that when I came bounding down the stairs on Christmas morning there were going to be really cool new toys to play with, or computer games, or who-knows-what … but it was going to be awesome (and it always was). They were wonderful times, and are still wonderful memories.

Earlier this year I lost two of our family of four. My sister died unexpectedly in a small plane crash in June. Twenty-two days later my father lost his long battle with cancer. It’s been a bit of a sad year, well, the second half anyway.

This isn’t my first experience with tragedy or loss. Seven years ago I lost my oldest son. As such, I sort of had an idea of how things would go, from an emotional standpoint. There will be days when things are fine and then days when they are not. It’s expected.

What’s different this time around is that there are sometimes noticeable “triggers” for what one might call a “low” day (or week). The first time I watched a UNC basketball game, for example, was a bit subdued – I would likely have been on the phone with my father the whole time.

It appears as though Christmas was one such trigger. For the past few weeks I’ve hit a rather impressive emotional crater (you may have noticed I haven’t posted anything for some time). I’m easing back into the blog now, and it seemed useful to pull the thread on “lessons learned” from these past experiences.

The biggest thing I’ve noticed through my life when hit with loss has been the rather dramatic change of perspective. Things that used to matter become less important. By extension, things that used to receive little consideration are given greater importance. I’ve said on more than one occasion that the loss of my son seven years ago made me a much better husband. Little issues that used to cause tension in the house become obsolete – I just didn’t care about little stuff anymore. I cared about people (mostly my wife in that case) and their pain, issues, difficulties.

At the time I remember my wife and I had lunch with a good friend of mine who had just split with his wife. Putting the three of us together was like tying three rocks together to see if they would float. He told us at the time that it was very important to him that we make it through this. Pain and perspective. People matter more and trivialities matter less (now that you realize they’re trivialities).

About  a month before Christmas I had an interesting conversation with some Christian friends about the concept of Santa Claus and whether Christians should play along with the charade for their kids. On the one hand, it’s effectively a “deception” to tell the kids Santa is real and have them find out later that he’s not. On the other hand, what’s the big deal? The latter was my general response. When I look out at the world I see broken and hurting people. I see oppression in North Korea; I see little girls in India sold into a lifetime of sexual slavery at the age of 12; I see Philippino street kids digging through the trash at the city dump looking for a bite to eat; I see wanton slaughter of pre-born children across the world. Santa Claus ain’t on my list of important issues, anywhere. That’s my perspective. (If it’s important to you, fine, “work out your own salvation” – Phil 2:12.)

That perspective tends to make its way over into my political philosophy as well. Issues that involve justice are a big deal to me – which is why I so ardently oppose central-bank-controlled fiat currencies, majority-rule slavery, and abortion. Other issues that tend to be big with Christians (homosexuality, drugs) just aren’t a big deal to me. Don’t misunderstand, I fall along the same moral lines as my Christian friends – but from the standpoint of government policy I much prefer justice in matters of victimization and freedom in matters of morality.

As long as we’re on this earth there are going to be painful days. In some cases it is the natural outcome of our existence – people die, and sometimes not in the right order. In other cases, fallen and broken people are just plain mean, evil, and oppressive to their neighbors. You and I will face more such days in our time, we can count on it.

Much like Frodo Baggins, we will wish that such things had not happened, that we had not seen such evil days. To which Gandalf’s response was apt: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

I have a week’s worth of posts running through my head that now need to find their way to the internet. Perhaps we’ll pick up again tomorrow with the year in review and our outlook for 2013. Until then, wishing you all a (belated) Merry Christmas – I hope you made some memories.



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