He was single and a Christian. As I talked with him I can’t deny my widowed mind thought of romantic possibilities. A romantic comedy channel played in my head. But the more the conversation went on, the more the channel became fuzzy.
At the time I couldn’t put my finger on why I started losing interest. I just knew that bit by bit, his remarks showed a lack of…something….a lack of substance. The romantic possibilities fizzled. Ironically, the next day I felt unusually hopeful and happy for the first time since my husband died over two years ago. Odd, right? I kept replaying the conversation, wondering why I felt good after thorough disappointment.
But, then it dawned on me what I felt.
I was thankful.
The conversation produced a turning point in my mindset. Our dialogue created a sharp contrast… a contrast of the deep places of the soul that only pain brings to life. A contrast of what a heart that has tasted tragedy understands versus one that has not. A contrast of the shallow goals, fears and worries that encompass an unscathed heart compared to the wisdom brought from a broken one. And seeing the contrast made my heart thankful for my pain.
That conversation created a newfound respect for what my grief had done in me – for the person it is still making me. This guy was nice but had a lack of depth, a lack of maturity…the kind of depth and maturity that only comes through life experience… usually painful life experience. All I kept thinking during the conversation was, “he has yet to be tried by fire.” I couldn’t connect with him.
The realization that I used to be one of those people is what illuminated in my mind. I had been a person who experienced pain, sure, but not the tragedy type of pain. I had moved from one side of society to the other. From inexperienced to experienced. Ignorant to knowing. Naïve to tested.
Tested by fire.
And I was thankful. A new layer of peace settled in my heart after that discourse as it dawned on me how much heartbreak had changed me. Mostly for the good.
I wasn’t thankful for losing my husband in a car accident, but I was thankful for being a person that was no longer untouched and untried, unable to truly understand the brokenness inside others. I’m glad I’ve been tested by fire. Not everything that came out the other side was precious metal. Some burned up in flames. As I listened to this guy and his shallow responses, I recognized what I most certainly used to be in my old naivety. I had a good childhood. I hadn’t struggled with school. I had never been abused or neglected. It was easy to say “I forgive” and “I trust God” because I had never experienced a pain that made it challenging.
I realized I used to be the person spouting knowledge without experience – counseling others with no real tested substance within me. Like a non-mother silently judging the mother of four walking through the store parking lot or the person criticizing the waitress when they have never worked in the service industry a day in their life.
The fire had refined me. And humbled me. And deepened me. And softened me. After that conversation I could recognize a distinct difference between tested and untested. The happiness that sprouted subtly in my heart came from awareness.
In tragedy, the mirage burns away and what is left is the bare root of who you are. The decoration is peeled away. You are put into a classroom you never asked to be in but the diplomas are often characteristics that entrench the human soul with compassion, strength and the understanding of what really matters. Honesty and kindness, vulnerability and humility sprout like never before. The silly things that used to ruffle my feathers I now recognize as unimportant. Appreciation forms for genuine relationships. Nonessentials become nonessential. My eyes were opened to the vast effects of small acts of kindness as people stood by me…or in some cases didn’t. Grief and tragedy connect us as humans in a way that surpasses all lines of color, race or religion.
Now, when I look into the eyes of another hurting human soul, I get it.
And I am thankful I get it