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One of the most difficult seasons of my life was when I went through a divorce. I’d been married five years and my life stretched out ahead of me, with all of its dazzling possibility. Then when it ended quite abruptly, I went from loving life and knowing where I was headed to feeling more sadness and despair than I’d ever experienced. It was a dark time, and for several months I felt like I was drowning in my grief.

During that time, it was hard to talk about what I was going through for fear of judgment. I was a seminary student and I was worried that someone would think I was a fraud. I thought that ministers and counselors had it all together and didn’t experience the kind of darkness I was dealing with. After all, it was hard to just get out of bed and go through the motions of my day, not to mention keep up appearances that everything was just fine.

As I began to open up, bit by bit, I began to discover others who had been through very similar experiences. They had walked through that same furnace and come out the other side- scarred, but stronger. They shared stories that I had never heard, even from close friends I’d known many years. I began to realize how many people have lived through deeply difficult and tragic stories that I’d never heard. These were the people who shared the struggles with me, laughed and cried with me through all the emotions and lifted me up with their angel wings so I didn’t have to navigate the darkness alone.

Eventually, I realized that life would not just go on, but get better. I had a new path ahead, filled with possibilities and I was free to create my own beautiful future. I began to recognize the gift I’d been given through this difficult journey. I had a story to tell, a new perspective, and a deeper compassion and understanding for the struggles of others. I could love like never before, reach out to others, and find new hope and meaning in forgiveness. I knew compassion because I was given compassion, and was stronger than ever before.

While I was in seminary, I read “The Wounded Healer” by Henri Nouwen. A Dutch Catholic priest, Nouwen expanded the concept of loving others through the strength you find in your wounds and brokenness. It’s a bit of a paradox because one might assume that a healer would be stronger by not having wounds, or at least not showing their woundedness. I’ve discovered in my life that going through the most difficult challenges is what makes me the most strong and compassionate for the journey of others. We are all companions on this earthly path, and we all have shared experiences that make us human.

Have you lived through a difficult time? Are you going through one right now? I don’t believe that bad things happen for a reason or that God sends us trials to go through- but I do believe that we can find something beautiful in even the darkest parts of our journey. We can learn, grow, and become stronger. We can find our voice, find others who understand the darkness, and we can be the best versions of ourselves in the end. Don’t be afraid to share your scars and wounds with others. It may be just the thing that will heal them and change you in the process for the better. That is the very heart of love.