Two years ago I was diagnosed with Zoster (Shingles). It’s a strain of the Chicken Pox virus that attacks your nervous system. Often Zoster presents itself around a person’s torso; in my case it was the right side of my head. At the onset, the pain was excruciating and my face became swollen and slightly disfigured. It felt as if someone was sticking needles through my head from the inside out. Even my hair hurt! It lasted for several weeks and finally localized in my jaw/ear and became manageable. After a couple of months it was completely gone. Now the only reminder is a scar on my chin and some tenderness around my temple.
At the time, Deb suggested (after a day of me feeling particularly sorry for myself) that maybe this was a “humbling experience” that I needed. She reminded me that there are many people that live in constant misery and have no hope of comfort or recovery. She felt that perhaps it was an opportunity for me to be more compassionate towards others and more understanding of those who are suffering in our world. I’m trying really hard to forget what I muttered under my breath to her at that moment!
But you know what? She was right.
I’m afraid too often I take for granted the blessings God has bestowed on me. I somehow feel that I’ve earned what I have or that I’m responsible for my own success. I sometimes forget that God’s hand is active in everything that I do (or don’t do). I’ve heard it said that the problem with “self-made men” is that often they begin to worship their maker. I’ve been guilty of that. Time and again, it’s all about me!
And I find myself judging others without understanding their struggle. I see sadness and injustice everywhere but it’s too easy to turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to the real causes. When I encounter profound suffering, I often find myself wanting to run from it – to ‘bury my head in the sand’ so to speak. At times I lack any real empathy. Do I really believe that others somehow deserve their suffering? God, forgive me!
Having my painful episode with Zoster did help me become compassionate, if only briefly. From time to time I have to recall that pain when dealing with others’ hardships. I need to remind myself that I am not the master of my destiny. I need to be reminded that not everyone’s misfortune is their own doing. And that while it is easy to sometimes look down on others, it is important to remember that God is ALWAYS looking down on all of us.
This is what Jesus tells us in Luke’s Gospel:
“Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity–greedy, dishonest, adulterous–or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
I thank God for “my humbling experience” and for a wife whose love and devotion helped me to see it.