Its time to leave starving children in Africa alone. I’m serious.
No, of course I don’t mean stop supporting them or praying for them or working to solve the problems of their hunger. We must. They desperately do need our help because they are suffering. And their suffering is severe.
What I mean is its time you stop making them the poster children for why you won’t face your own pain.
Because I hear it all the time. When people come in and begin talking about their lives and what they’ve suffered here on this ball of sweat and sorrow, inevitably it produces a flinch. Its trained right into us. “Ah, I feel like I’m whining. This all sounds so trivial,” it starts. “I mean there are starving children in Africa. And they have it so much worse than I do. What am I complaining about?”
This Is Not Helpful Comparison
It sounds so right. Part of it is right. They probably do have it worse than you do. In a way. Their suffering is so obvious. So immediate. And you probably have clean water and food to spare.
But its not right. The logic doesn’t work after all. I mean pain is pain. Does one person’s pain eliminate another’s?
Imagine yourself lying on the ground with a broken leg. And someone says to you, “Well it could be worse. I know a guy with two broken legs. You should be grateful.” What they say might be true. But is your broken leg any better? Are you feeling all that comforted?
A woman once told me her story of being sexually abused, although she hadn’t yet called it that. It was a story which took my breath away with its horror. And her closing statement was something like, “Yeah, but I survived. And besides…(wait for it)… starving children in Africa.”
It gave me whiplash with how quickly she turned this corner and dismissed her own pain.
Comparison of this type is almost completely unhelpful. Worse, it keeps most of us, including this woman, from acknowledging the reality of our own suffering.
Compare Your Life To This Instead
Gratitude has its place. It really does. And its about the only thing comparison is good for. But gratitude that keeps you from telling your story is not the same as healing. And if you’ve suffered, then gratitude alone isn’t going to cure that pain, even though it might help you get through it.
And remember Jesus once told a parable about a Pharisee who started his prayer, “God, thank you that I am not like other people…” Turns out God wasn’t too happy with that way of going about things. So I suggest we don’t either.
My wise friend Jan Proett says, “Eden is the measuring stick for our lives. Not other people.” Now there you go. That’s the place we’re meant to compare our lives.
Your heart was meant for perfection, for a place free of death and paper cuts and car accidents and mass murders and break ups and broken legs. And yes, hunger too. A place where all your needs were met abundantly, where you never doubted you were loved. Where you never felt scared. Where your heart was always nourished. A place where you could live out your dreams and desires with full freedom and support.
We all live east of eden. Which means we are living in a world that’s now far more hostile to our hearts. Which means everyone is suffering. Everyone’s life has pain in it. Yes, you will always find someone that has it worse than you do. Guaranteed. But no one gets off free of suffering.
This should feel like permission. Permission to finally admit what happened to you really did matter.
Try This Exercise
Here’s a good place to start: Get out your journal and answer these questions. How would your life be different if you lived in Eden? Think of your entire story. How would the painful stories of your life be written differently? What struggles or insecurities would vanish? How would the people in your life be different? How would you be different?
You need to do this. But you also get to do this. You get to honor your suffering.
Yes, be grateful you are not a starving child in Africa. Pray for their suffering. But stop using their plight to avoid your pain.