"Unearned suffering is redemptive." —Martin Luther King, Jr.
I have had a few experiences in my life where I asked, "What did I do to deserve this?" I operate so often within a system of karma that I tend to assume everything has a direct cause and effect. I believe my good work will pay off and that I can avoid tragedy by making good choices. But what about when it doesn't and I can't?
Not that karma isn't real at all, but some people are born into families that are kind and generous and healthy, while some others wake up one morning with cancer. Some people can't have children when they really really want to. Some people get hit by a car and die on their way to work. Fate, by itself, is a hard thing to wrestle with, but even harder is wrestling with it with an audience who believes you get what you deserve.
So if I really don't deserve this pain, what is the point of it? There isn't a "lesson to be learned" from suffering I didn't earn. What do I even do in suffering? Is there a purpose or is this just meaningless, depressing torture? MLK is suggesting that suffering has an almost unbelievable ability to heal and save the soul.
I think of this in terms of broken things being restored. Whom have I set myself apart from? Whom have I assumed is so different from me that we couldn't possibly be in the same boat? What political party? What sexual orientation? What generation? How could I unite with them in my suffering? How can I begin to see us as equals—because we all suffer? What hindering things can I let go of that I, until now, believed were essential? How can I now establish a better balance of painful truth and gentle grace in my own life?
Unsplash photo cred: Omar Ram