Sometimes those who have been deeply hurt doubt whether they can ever be free of sorrow or pain. Twenty-five years after the end of the war in Vietnam, there's renewed interest in how people who lived through that troubled period in Southeast Asia have fared. Despite terrible losses, many people have found peace in their hearts.
For others, though, an inner struggle continues. In a recent TV interview, one woman recounted the brutal story of her family's flight from Cambodia. Now a college student in Stockton, California, Pov Chin softly recited a verse from the poem "Minstrel Man" by Langston Hughes, which she says describes her:
Because my mouth Is wide with laughter And my throat Is deep with song, You do not think I suffer after I have held my pain So long?
The world's great religious teachings affirm that freedom from suffering can be found through gaining a more spiritual view of life. The Buddhist tradition, for example, teaches that relief from suffering comes from glimpsing ultimate reality, where there is no birth or death. Compassion and forgiveness grow from, and are means to, this realization.
The Hebrew Bible often describes God as forgiving and full of compassion, comforting His people. It envisions life in the presence of God with no more "sorrow and sighing" (see Isa. 35:10). And the Christian gospel affirms that forgiving our enemies - even loving and praying for them - helps us feel God's love (see Matt. 5:43-45). These promises are for now. Long-term hurts would make us feel that we are somehow living outside or unconscious of God's goodness. But God's love is all-surrounding. Hurt-dissolving. It erases sadness. It makes forgiveness feel right. Nothing can keep us from feeling the love and forgiveness that are natural to us as God's likeness.
Referring to harsh experiences as "the wintry blasts of earth," Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Monitor, wrote that the "severance of fleshly ties serves to unite thought more closely to God, for Love supports the struggling heart until it ceases to sigh over the world and begins to unfold its wings for heaven" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 57).
God gives heavenly thoughts that support us in sorrow. One heavenly thought is that identity is so much greater than matter, birth, and death. Each individual is actually an eternal idea, a precious and essential expression of the one Life that is God.
Realizing that life is eternal doesn't make us indifferent to the injustice or suffering inflicted on others. Rather, it gives us the conviction that no one can be overcome by such wrongs or by the memory of them. Our life is spiritual and can't be wronged. Divine Love shows each of us this life and, in this tender way, puts an end to old hurts.
Recently I talked with a woman whose parents endured violent religious persecution in the Dominican Republic before fleeing in the 1960s. Growing up in New York City, she likewise encountered violent racial prejudice, assaults, job loss, and being intentionally held back in school and at work. In those days she just prayed to survive.
But later she prayed to understand the anguish she felt. She realized that people are often cruel or unjust because they're afraid - afraid of something different or unknown. She prayed to rid herself of this "fear of other," and to forgive the wrongs done to her and her family.
"I had a passion to help others, and I couldn't do it while holding on to fear or anger," she told me. And she has found healing in "giving back," especially to immigrants who have experienced difficulties like hers.
Old hurts can be healed. God supports every effort to find our unharmed life in Spirit. God never stops loving us, and nothing can keep us from knowing and expressing God's love.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society