In recent years, I've had a particular lesson hammered home many times:
Life isn't perfect . . . for anyone.
That's simply a fact, no matter what someone's life looks like from the outside. No human being will escape this life without their share of trials, unwelcome surprises, and burdens.
But somehow, we either forget that, or we don't realize it, or, often, we simply don't believe it.
I've had people say to my face that I must have no clue what stress is like, that gee, I should be so grateful for having such an easy life . . . all because they see just a little piece of my existence from the outside.
While I might not have experienced their particular trial (one such commenter was divorced, and no, I've never been through that), I do have trials of my own. Everyone does. Just because I don't proclaim mine from the rooftop in neon lights doesn't mean they don't exist.
The same goes for other people. I continue to be stunned when I hear about long-time friends who have gone through this or that trial, really big things I never knew or suspected. But I shouldn't be surprised, because no one is immune to this thing called mortality, and most trials aren't obvious to the casual observer.
Instead, our private burdens are just that: private, personal and between us and the Lord.
About twelve years ago, when I had a 2-year-old and a baby, a neighbor apologized for not calling earlier about something, explaining she'd had a crazy, stressful day. I said, "Don't worry about it. I totally understand being stressed out."
Her reply: "No you don't. I have four kids. You have two."
In shock, I stood there with the phone to my ear with no clue how to respond. She had no right to assume anything about my life and its stresses, regardless of the number of children I had at the time. (So now that I have four children can I say I understand stress? Puhleese.) To this day, I can't think about her with warm fuzzies.
I had something similar happen recently, only it wasn't cruel like that other situation; it was simply an offhand remark from a friend who didn't know what she was talking about. I was with two friends, and they were commiserating about the problems their teenagers were wreaking on their families.
One turned to me and said something like, "None of your kids are like this. Aren't you glad that the only thing you have to worry about is promoting your new book?"
It was all I could do not to cry. As it was, my eyes stung, and I made some flippant remark before leaving.
Yes, I know I am very blessed. I know I have some things many others yearn for (among them: a publishing contract. Trust me, I don't take that for granted).
But that knowledge doesn't mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that I don't have trials. Daily ones. HARD ones. I just don't broadcast them. I'm willing to wager that any blogger who appears to "have it all" . . . doesn't. NO ONE DOES.
Some days, I envy bloggers who can dump their problems freely into posts. I can't really do that, because this blog, while very much an honest part of who I am, is only a slice of me. That slice is the professional writer/editor, and sometimes the mom. This isn't a forum where I put my problems out for the world to see. But that doesn't mean they don't exist.
I believe it's unfair for anyone to compare trials.
"What I'm going through is so much harder than what she's dealing with. She has it so easy."
You know what? You can't know that. Only God can know the burden each person pulls in their wagons. They may have dozens of trials you haven't ever considered.
And even if you happen to know what all their trials are (which is unlikely if not impossible), what is excruciatingly heavy for one person to bear might not be so hard for another, but that doesn't discount the suffering the first person is going through.
Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, once compared suffering to a gaseous substance. He said that a gas will fill up any container it is placed into, regardless of size, and suffering is the same: no matter what type of suffering we're dealing with, the pain fills the person completely.
This means that if one of my daughters has trouble with her school friends, it might rock her world just as much as something so-called "bigger" rocks mine. As her mother, a more mature adult, I can look at her problem and see it as trivial or small (it would be small if I were to magically be a fifth grader again with the maturity of a 36-year-old). But to her, it's not trivial. It is a heavy burden, and the pain fills her completely.
As I said, this idea has been on my mind a lot in recent years, so I suppose it shouldn't have been a surprise when it showed up in Band of Sisters. Several of the women in there assume things about one another and about their individual struggles, or supposedly the others' lack of problems.
But the reader sees behind the curtain and knows that each and every woman in the story has a heavy load she must pull in her wagon, even though each burden is of a different stripe.
In real life, we don't have the luxury of seeing behind one another's curtains, but perhaps we can be more compassionate and give one another the benefit of the doubt.
As they say, if you assume that everyone you meet is going through a difficult time, you'll almost always be right.
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