There is a phrase I used to recite when the emotions I had bottled up inside for so long threatened to bubble up to the top and spew out.
“No matter how bad I think I’ve had it, someone else has had it worse.”
I stuffed my pain down in order to acknowledge everyone else’s until one day my own pain attacked me from the inside out.
I was walking through the kitchen on my lunch break when a pain gripped my heart so tightly I thought my chest would explode. It hurt. No, it hurt beyond any description I can write accurately here. It physically hurt, like an explosion inside your chest would hurt.
That day started my three-year walk through severe anxiety, depression, and around-the-clock panic attacks. It also started my discovery that pain is pain, and stuffing pain away because someone else’s might be worse still won’t make it go away.
I have wanted to write a book about the root of that first panic attack for many years, but the truth is, I couldn’t find a precise purpose to it until about a year and a half ago.
I sat on a couch in England watching a young boy’s heart break about life and faith and friendships. Through a mound of tears, he asked me one tough question: “Why do bad things have to happen to good people?”
I was honest.
“I don’t exactly know, David,” I said. “But here’s how I see it …”
I began sharing with him my pain. He was really the first person with whom I’d ever shared each event consecutively. I had talked about bits and pieces here and there with a few people, but never had I put everything into one frame-by-frame verbal slide show.
Here are a few snapshots of how the parade of events went:
- Freshman year: car wreck, best friend’s death
- Sophomore year: unexpected and sudden death of classmate; unexpected tragic death of former classmate
- Junior year: death of very good friend from car accident
- Senior year: death of very good friend from car accident
- 19 years old: death of first child
- 19 years old: deaths of neighbor boy who always carried my books to class and best friend’s little brother (see freshman year) from car accident
- 20 years old: divorced from physically, verbally, and sexually abusive husband
- 20 years old: shut off all emotion. I vowed never to cry again and didn’t for three full years.
- 21 years old: death of second child. I sat dry-eyed through my baby boy’s funeral. When that one single tear started to fall, I wiped it away and told my conscience that nothing and no one would ever hurt me again. I was sort of able to stick with that promise until that day I walked through my kitchen, when the snowball I had let build up inside me exploded square in my chest.
So, I told the boy on the couch in England about my walk through that pain, about acknowledging it. About crying for 48 hours non-stop after that first appointment with my counselor, which didn’t happen until almost a year after that day in the kitchen. About praying to God to take my life. About wanting to die but being afraid to die at the same time.
I told him about all those years that I felt like I was walking through a tunnel. It was a dark tunnel, too. Pitch black. And then I told him about the day my counselor did what no one had ever done for me … she prayed. She prayed just for me.
I had received prayer, in groups with others who also needed prayer. I had received prayer, by well-meaning pastors who wanted desperately to pray away my sins on their own terms. I had received prayer, silently, probably, from many who loved me.
But never had I received prayer like the one this woman prayed over me.
I don’t even remember the words she used, but I know after that prayer, at the end of my two-day cry-a-thon, I recognized that something in my dark and lonely tunnel was a little bit different.
It took me a couple days to acknowledge it – to believe it – but yes, there it was: at the end of that tunnel I saw a light – a miniscule, pin-prick of light, barely visible light – just enough to give me something to crawl toward.
I scraped and pulled and stretched toward that light – some days until I had no strength left to give, but I kept going day after day because with each inch I crawled, the light kept getting bigger and bigger.
And after three long years, at long last, I sat in the middle of my college campus on a warm spring day, and I inhaled a cleansing, deep breath of freedom. It was the first time since that day in my kitchen that my heart didn’t skip a beat when I tried to breathe that deeply. I had made it to the light. I was swimming in it, not necessarily completely free from the pain, but free-er from the burden of it.
So, I sat looking at that boy weeping on the couch in England, weeping and listening to my story I had never told anyone, and I said, “David, I don’t know why bad things happen to good people. I don’t know why bad things happened to me. But I do have a theory about it. I think God carries us through those trials so that we can share our experiences with others going through bad things, too. And if I had to go through all those terrible things again just so I could tell you that today, I would.”
That boy turned to me and said three words: “You’re awesome, Korina.”
It was hard for me to believe those words – to believe myself awesome, but I believe it now because I know I was made awesome through Jesus Christ.
“I get it now, Korina,” he said. “I totally get it, and I’m going to go call my friend right now and share it with her because I think she will get it, too.”
So that is my take on loss. If we can look at loss through Jesus, who lost it all for each of us, then our loss turns into gain.
“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” – 1 Peter 6-9 (NIV)