Speaker and author Carol Kent shared the devastation that followed "life-without-parole" sentencing for her only son.
"A parent's worst nightmare," she described it. When she finished, she told us, "You can tell me your stories, but please don't say my pain is much worse than yours. Pain is pain is pain, whether that is from illness, financial trouble, or other traumas."
Afterward I talked to our daughter. Kirsten said people often told her that they felt badly for her, "and though we are suffering, we can't imagine going through what you do." (She has severe juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.)
"No one has to go through what I do," said Kirsten. "Everyone has their own pain. There's no comparison between experiences."
Comparing the weight of humanity and downplaying our own suffering sends a clear message to someone in the middle of devastation. "Our hurts are bad, but yours is definitely worse. We feel so sorry for you..."
Such a statement of "comfort" carries the implication that if something even more horrid happens to someone else, this suffering is less than the other person's. Yet, how can we measure the brokenness and hurts? What kind of increment or tool could show the physical, emotional, or spiritual toll of stress, worry, or grief?
Though not everyone is behind physical prison bars, many of us inhabit a prison of our fears. We worry that life will be too difficult, that good times may not last, or that we are not strong enough to survive the future.
Only God is able to sustain us. "Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares for you," said the apostle. And, "Think on good things, and be thankful. And God's peace will surround you beyond your understanding." Such inner resilience and trust springs our prison gates open so we walk in freedom, no matter what our circumstances.