By Richard Arina
Talking on the phone yesterday with a dear brother and friend made me realize the power of not just sharing but writing down our stories.
The call made me remember a brother who had responded to one of my recent journal entries “The Blessings of Adversity” in a way that made me inquire why he decided to comment on that particular topic.
His response left me completely speechless and moved me – so much so that I asked for his permission to share it with all of you:
“When I was 2, my dad took me away from mom. The subsequent 17 years were hell on earth for me. I lurched from one adversity after another. I became angry and bitter. I was bitter with my dad for taking me away from mom, and bitter towards mom for not looking for me. I became a suicidal teenager who hated everything about himself. I became violent and vindictive.
Despite my bitterness and violent tendencies, I retained some love for God, sincerely believing that He was my only hope.
I was raised Catholic and wanted to become a priest. My first step to getting there was to become an altar boy, a position I served in with relish. There was a particular priest that I admired so much that I started copying his lifestyle, including drinking and smoking despite being underage.
Just before I turned 18, I became Pentecostal. Although a lot changed in the following years, including a reunion with my mom and two sisters, my inner turmoil continued to rage. I attempted suicide again after my reunion with my mom and ran away from home. The way I survived that last suicide attempt still seems like a movie scene to me. I woke up at 3.00am on a Saturday ready to time a speeding car to jump in front of. It was raining heavily but I didn’t mind. My mind was set on death. I wanted to end it all – all these suffering. As I waited, a voice spoke behind me. A man greeted me but I didn’t answer. It was a quiet night. He proceeded to tell me how it was a bad idea for me to be out at that time and in the rain. He persisted and succeeded in taking me off the path of death.
I am happy to say that was my last attempt because shortly after that, I became a disciple and God healed the pain I had been carrying around from the abandonment I felt. To God’s glory, it’s been almost two decades.
My dad returned into our lives after I became a disciple, and all the negative feelings I had towards him returned in full force, a brother from the church who had succeeded in getting me to open up committed to attending a class with me. He made me see that being bitter and angry wasn’t going to get me anywhere and that I needed to forgive my parents with God’s help.
I didn’t like the idea of asking God to help me forgive my parents. I believed my dad had no place in our lives, especially after showing up after we had all graduated from school and two of us already had full-time jobs.
Becoming a disciple taught me that despite voraciously reading the Bible, praying and fasting, sometimes 3 days a week, I needed to grow in what it truly meant to live by the scriptures.
It opened my eyes to the fact that forgiving my parents, who I blamed for the pain of my past, was key to my personal and spiritual liberation.
During my Bible studies, one of the brothers created a lesson entitled, “Why adversity?” and had me read James 1:2-4 and Romans 5:3-6 preparation. From those scriptures, I learned several lessons that shaped my life to date, especially when I’m going through adversity.
One of the lessons was, knowing that what Christ accomplished for us on the cross gave our lives a completely new meaning. Adversity is one of the ways God shapes us and prepares us to accomplish His will in our lives. This happens so we may reflect the true character of Christ (Romans 8:28-30).
One of the areas I’ve grown as a disciple is that my mind has been transformed to realize that adversity brings me closer to God. I’ve learned to understand that God uses challenges to bring out the best in me. I see now that unless there is pressure, there is no growth. Comfort zones are enemies of growth, both personal and spiritual (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Hebrews 12:6–13).
In those moments, the way forward is to place all our trust in God to guide us through and to provide all we need to cross to the other side. In adversity, we see our need to cry out to God to rescue us. (Psalm 3:4, Psalm 34:17); to be merciful to us (Psalm 86:3) and the goal is to do so with pure hearts that seek to draw closer to Him (Psalm 66:18).
Adversities bring us to moments of introspection. We tend to examine our ways in hard times more than in times of joy. We often ask ourselves where we have gone wrong, and hopefully, when we see those areas – it brings us to repentance (Revelation 3:19).
Adversity works to expose pride. It’s easy to recognize people who have gone through adversities. They tend to be humble and positive. They understand how fleeting everything besides godliness is – and they do not place unnecessary value on things of the world. In my case, adversity has taught me to be more compassionate and empathetic. It has taught me to never downplay or diminish anyone’s pain. It has also led me to the personal discovery that I have so much love to give others.
I’ve been humbled by tough circumstances that I have become more sensitive to pride, in myself, and in others. I’m more considerate than I’ve ever been, all thanks to surviving adversity.
I’m far from perfection like we all are. I still a long, long way away from where I would like to be. I am still a work in progress.”
Don’t keep it to yourself if you have a story. 2 Kings 7:9-11; John 4:28-30, 39-41