Stopped at a traffic light, I burst out laughing. The car in front of me sported a bumper sticker that read, “Not another f…… learning experience!” Re-reading The Shack reminds me that no experience should ever be wasted. Everything that happens carries with it a lesson.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been a slow learner. I frequently have to get smacked upside the head several times before I learn the lesson life wants to teach me. One of my greatest challenges has been accepting responsibility for the outcomes of my choices and actions, especially when the consequences weren’t what I had intended. It’s so tempting to blame others instead of looking at the part I play.

A lasting memory is sitting with a friend after her divorce.. The trauma connected with having a severely autistic child had been too much for her husband. Trying to pick up the pieces of her shattered marriage, having full responsibility for their severely disabled son, she allowed herself a little time to feel sorry for herself, but then picked up the pieces of her broken hopes and dreams declaring angrily, “If I haven’t learned anything else from this, I’ve learned that no pain should ever be wasted!” She went on to create parent support groups and a daycare facility for autistic and special needs children in her area. Fortunately, she is not alone. Others have used their broken hearts to work for positive change. Take MADD and SADD. Parents for Sandy Hook, the kids from Parkland. Twelve-step programs. Recovery groups. Re-Entry programs. Alzheimer’s Support groups. The list goes on and on.

Our difficult experiences are wasted if we’re unwilling to learn from them. Of course, we will ask questions like why do some get addicted to drugs and not others? Why is society so eager to criminalize addicts or the mentally ill instead of treating them for their brain diseases? Why do we pretend everything is great when it isn’t? Why is it so hard to learn the lessons life tries to teach us? Why do we blame others when blame doesn’t fix anything?

In the end, the important question is not so much why something happens, though that is important, but what are we to learn from it? How can gratitude help us use a painful experience for good? If, as my friend observed, no pain should ever be wasted, how can we make our difficult experiences work for good? What hidden gifts lies embedded in every experience, or as my granddaughter observed, “the best apology is changed behavior.”

One of the best mind clarifiers I’ve ever found is the Serenity Prayer. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as the pathway to peace. Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will so I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.” Amen.

Joyce Shutt is the pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church.

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