There’s a parable that perhaps you’ve heard before. It is not one of those told by Jesus but is valid in this season, nonetheless.
One day a boy in a village was given a horse. The townspeople gathered around the happy child and congratulated him.
“What a lucky boy!” they said.
A nearby monk shrugged his shoulders and said, “We’ll see.”
A few days later the boy was riding the horse and it threw him and the boy broke his leg. The people of the town gathered around and shook their heads, “That boy has the worst luck,” they said.
The monk shrugged his shoulders and said, “We’ll see.”
While the boy was still recovering in his bed, the king ordered all the boys and men to gather to fight a war against an overwhelming foe. The boy couldn’t go and almost all of the men from his village were killed.
“What a lucky boy,” the surviving villagers said.
“We’ll see,” the monk replied.
Parables are intentionally a bit fuzzy and this one more than most. Was it good fortune that the boy got the horse, that he broke his leg and that he did not die in the war? Sure, but that’s not the end of the story and it wasn’t always clear in the present tense what was going to happen.
As it turns out, we often don’t know a blessing when one falls on us out of nowhere. It can seem to be a curse at the time.
For instance, have you ever met someone who spoke of a serious illness as a positive turning point in their lives? Looking for interesting people, I’ve talked to a dozen or more who feel that way. They’ve told me that it taught them the meaning of life, how precious it is and how not a minute should be wasted.
I frequently go to an infusion clinic where most of the other patients, not me, are being given chemotherapy, a treatment that often makes them sick for days afterwards. Complaining is the exception at the clinic, not the rule.
These people are so thankful you can almost physically feel that spirit in the air. They aren’t happy that cancer has invaded their bodies — far from it — but they now clearly see all the good things in their lives and have really learned what it means to live.
Even knowing what these people are dealing with doesn’t make me pity their situation. I’ve never seen a group so alive in the moment. It is uplifting, not depressing.
Most of the unhappy people I see have fixated on a single problem, almost always short term, that keeps them from some activity or some purchase they want. It is not something that would even register as a hardship for most of us but they desperately need you to feel sorry for them.
My suggestion is to give them the sympathy they crave. It doesn’t cost you anything and it might help them believe that someone cares. That might be what they are really looking for in this holiday season: A sign that someone out there cares, a light in the darkness.
Then there are those who do face serious loss or pain in their lives. They would like to be happy and probably have been most of their lives. But they’ve become overwhelmed with the circumstances.
You may or may not understand their plight but you don’t have to know exactly to offer a bit of support, which can be a simple as a kind word.
It doesn’t take much effort for you to be a light, to hold up a candle for those who might believe that all the candles have been exhausted forever.
Guess what? That isn’t going to happen. I have it on good authority that the lights are going to stay on this season and, with any luck, they will be even brighter than before.