The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born. ~Malala Yousafzai
Pain, suffering, disappointment, and life gone wrong; any of these sound familiar? We will all encounter moments or seasons of pain and disappointment. But we can choose how to respond to that pain and suffering. It can lead to devastation, anger, and despair; or it can lead to transformation, hope, and courage. Many great leaders have been born out of horrific pain and sacrifice. One such individual has been in the news headlines frequently over the past month.
Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani girl who was brutally attacked on her way home from school – shot in the head at point-blank range by the Taliban. ABC World News reported, "One year later, the shot heard round the world has given birth to a movement of change – a movement to educate girls, and the little girl from Swat Valley in Pakistan has become an international symbol of courage and hope."
The fact that Malala survived her attack is miraculous. But I think what has really transfixed us, is Malala's response to the attack and her attackers. While speaking to the UN she said, "They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed. And then, out of that silence, came thousands of voices." In an interview with Jon Stewart, Malala stated, "I don’t want revenge on the Taliban, I want education for sons and daughters of the Taliban." It was the transformation of pain that very quickly catapulted Malala into the global spotlight.
Philip Yancey writes about suffering in his recent book, The Question that Never Goes Away. He quotes Victor Frankl who said, "Despair is suffering without meaning." Later in the book Yancey says that "we get not a remedy for suffering but a use for it, a pattern of meaning." He quotes Terry Waite, who said after being released from four years' captivity as a hostage in Lebanon, "I have been determined in captivity, and still am determined, to convert this experience into something that will be useful and good for other people. I think that's the best way to approach suffering."
I realize that most of us have not suffered the extreme circumstances of Malala, Victor Frankl, or Terry Waite. But we've all dealt with our own pain and suffering. What's the use for our suffering? What's the pattern of meaning? I believe that the leaders we truly desire to follow are those people who find a pattern of meaning amidst their pain and suffering. They give us hope, they personify courage; we believe that if we can grab a hold of even a fraction of their strength everything will be okay.
Businessweek.com posted an article entitled, The Value of Suffering. Author John Hope Bryant states, “The real value in suffering is that you find the invaluable, unmistakable, purposeful, and maybe even the passionate you in the midst of all those business meetings, credit card receipts, and business cards. And in so doing, you figure out that the best way to get ahead in this world is to lead by love and not fear. You help those around you to navigate stormy waters instead of avoiding them, because loss creates leaders."
What's the pattern of meaning for your suffering? Has your loss created a leader in you?