Learning Pain’s Lessons

So there I was in Home Depot, checking out the caulk. As I read labels extolling the virtues of each particular type of caulk, I heard a young child’s voice behind me, firmly announcing the day’s schedule to whomever was with her. I turned to see a young father, clearly ga-ga over his little girl.

What better time to start a conversation?

I allowed that it certainly helped to have such an excellent assistant handling the schedule. He beamed.

“How old is your daughter?”

Smiling at her, he replied, “She’s three.”

“Oh! My kids just adopted a three-year-old daughter from the Congo.”

Turning to her, I added, “I have a granddaughter just your age!”

A kaleidoscope of emotions spasmed across the man’s face. I had hit a very tender nerve.

Both he and his wife had been adopted. His wife joined a wonderfully nurturing adoptive family early on. His adoption, on the other hand, put him in a punitive family–and that only after years of turmoil in difficult foster homes.

I apologized for all he had been through. I had no part of what had happened to him, but somebody had to express sorrow about his years of rejection. Why not me? So I apologized a couple more times.

He thanked me for my concern, but I clearly hadn’t made a dent in his pain.

“You have to let go of the pain, you know,” I persisted.


“By learning the lessons in it.”

And I told him the story of how I learned the lesson that when somebody rejected me, it wasn’t about me. I included all the gory details because identifying with my pain would, in a strange way, be a balm to his. He wasn’t alone. He wasn’t different. He was normal.

After a moment’s thought, though, he said his history offered no lessons.

“Well, it does. All pain contains at least one lesson. It might be just a small lesson, not even close to the level of hurt you experienced, but once you recognize the lesson, you’ll be able to let go of the pain. Look for the lessons. My lesson that rejection had nothing to do with me may seem small, but it’s been huge for me. Life-changing.”

He insisted his misery included no lessons.

“Well, you learned how to be a better father.”

His face brightened. Yes, he had learned the importance of being a good father. And he loved being a daddy.

“And you learned how to be a better husband.”

He demurred, but with a smile.

“Well, you can work on that.”

At that, he laughed out loud. I could see tiny specks of light piercing his hurt.

I repeated my instruction to look for the lessons, and we parted.

We can let go of pain when we learn the lessons in it. Even small lessons give meaning to our suffering. Once we know it had meaning, we can let it go.

And so it is that we use pain for good.

And if you want more thoughts on dealing with life, go to . Bette Dowdell worked in the high-tech world for years, but her heart always beat to the rhythms of encouragement. Bette writes and speaks about living a life of excellence and about Christianity–understanding what it means to be a Christian and how it works.

To read about Bette’s book, How to be a Christian Without Being Annoying, go to http://ConfidentFaith.com. Bette plays well with others, so there’s no pushing and shoving here. Bette’s goal is twofold. First, the book provides nonbelievers with the information they need to make an informed decision about God in their lives. Then, whatever they decide will be based on knowledge, not rumor or hearsay. Second, the book answers believers’ questions and gives them the understanding of how all the pieces fit to form the whole.

To sample Bette’s original, motivational quotes–and perhaps sign up for weekly encouragement via a no-cost, e-mail subscription–go to .

© 2008 by Bette Dowdell. All rights reserved.

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