The Lesson of Super Heroes

Today’s blog is one I pulled out of my files and decided to post; the need for hope is as relevant now as it was when I wrote this back in April of 2013.  I need the reminder often…

Yesterday we were in the car when my ten year old, out of the blue, observed to me, “Hey, Mom, you know all the super heroes… it seems like none of them had any special powers until after they went through something that hurt them.”

I turned the radio down as the enormity of that statement began to settle into me.  Meeting her eyes in the rear view mirror, I asked, “Yeah?”, curious to see how far she’d thought this through.

“Yeah, like Captain America had to have an operation….” (Not to mention a lifetime of belittling and bullying and rejection.) 

“…and the Fantastic Four had the explosion in space and the Hulk was exposed to gamma rays and Tony Stark has a piece of metal always trying to get to his heart.  They had a bad thing happen to them, and then they got really strong.”

This was one of those game-changer moments.  At ten years old, my daughter was already perceiving and articulating a concept that most of us as adults have either never absorbed or have allowed ourselves to forget.  I told her this is why we love the super heroes: because they illustrate a life truth, a core concept that so well reflects our reality that they inspire us.  We ourselves live life much the same way, going through hard times, experiencing enormous pain and adversity, and on the rare occasion, we have the grace to grow back stronger.

I told her about broken bones, how once they are set and healed, they are stronger in the location of the break than in the bone surrounding it.

Others have commented more eloquently on this same idea:

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”  — Ernest Hemingway

“Perhaps strength doesn’t reside in having never been broken but in the courage required to grow strong in the broken places.”  — unknown

This is a common, recurring theme, so why do we so often forget?

The conversation with my daughter occurred in the car on our drive home.  Within minutes of opening my laptop later that afternoon, I began seeing posts and comments about Rick and Kay Warren’s unspeakable pain and the cause of it: the death by suicide of their depressed son, Matthew.  Comments ranged from sympathy and prayers to casualness and finger-pointing and all emotions in between.  My thoughts flashed immediately back to that conversation that had played out on the drive home, well before either of us had heard anything about this most recent tragedy that is shaking the world of the grieving family.

“The world breaks everyone…”

Ain’t that the truth.  No one questions this; it rings far too personal in every honest heart.  All of us, every single one of us, came into this world through a painful process, and there is no controversy or disagreement over how much this life hurts at times.  In spite of beauty and inspiration, we are plagued by doubts, pain, and insecurities.  Betrayal.  Loss.  Death.  “I cried on the day I was born, and every day since has shown me why.” — (unknown)

So how do we get from the break to the strength?

While my life has had its share of aches and turmoil, it seems to pale in comparison to what others have endured.  I have never been sent to a concentration camp.  Never lost a child.  Never suffered physical harm for my beliefs, never been homeless or starving or deported.  Both of my parents are alive, as well as all of my siblings.  The grandparents I have lost have gone on, due to old age and natural causes, having lived full lives.  Although both my pregnancies were difficult and scary with eminent threat of losing the baby both times, today we have two healthy, beautiful, smart girls.  When I look at the heartache others go through, I am blessed; and I am tempted to belittle the pain I have survived.

Until my heart feels too heavy to go on.  Until my tears have stopped flowing, and I’m in that place beyond tears that is empty and hopeless.  Lifeless.  Until I am crippled and immobile, not knowing where to go next, or if it is even worth going.  Until I feel like the last domino in a string of dominoes and wonder how much can one individual take?  How much pain can one world hold?  How much longer can we hold on?

Whether it is my pain directly or empathy for those around me, I mourn for the loss of beauty.  The loss of perfection and oneness with God that this place must have known in the beginning.  How will we ever get it back?  Will we ever get it back?  How did we fall so far?  And how could anything strong or special ever come from a break this bad?

I don’t have the answers to these questions.  I have no smart words, no neatly packaged solutions.  Everyone’s pain and the process through it is different, and rightly so.  God made us all individual and seeks to bring out the unique shine in each one.  Each of the superheroes has a different power and only after the crucible was that power brought to the surface.  Like the refining fire of the goldsmith.

So while I have no easy answers, or even hard ones, I have learned some things.  Ignoring the hurt, denying the pain or masking over our injury will not bring about the strength.  Time alone will not cure it.  Like the bone that must be set, the wound must be addressed.  We need to voice it, listen to it, live and breathe through it, in order to learn from it and grow stronger because of it.

Having come through a gut-wrenching break with religious legalism and a separating from our families because of it, I am now so sensitive to any institution that offers anything less than grace.  What was for me a trial that I wasn’t sure I’d live through, turned out to be the very thing that chased me into the arms of a graceful God.  Perhaps the difficulty of my pregnancies instilled in me a love for my girls that is stronger than any I may have had if they had come easily.  Going through seasons of financial defeat and distance from my spouse has promoted an enormous thankfulness for the close relationship we have now.  It is something for which we’ve fought and for which we’ve weathered out harsh storms.  It is a thing of value because of that struggle.

In light of the suffering and the trials, when they surround me and overwhelm me, and I know they’re getting the best of me, those are the times to hold on  Hold on.  Breathe.  Listen to the voice speaking that reassures, “When the waters rush over you and the fire roars, I’ll never leave you.  And you will overcome.  You will come out stronger.”

Sometimes there are no words.  In the searing light of a gas chamber exposed, knowing millions died while others said nothing.  In the dark place of losing your child, knowing that little hand you used to hold will no longer reach for yours.  In the rejection.  In the sickness.  In the loss of your faith.  No words.

But then comes the hope.  Eventually the light slips through the cracks that your life has become.  And one tiny step at a time, sometimes almost imperceptibly, the healing begins.  The strength returns, more powerful than before.  And then the super hero emerges.

Just ask Peter, making his most eloquent speech on the day of Pentecost, not long after denying the very best friend he had sworn to protect.  Ask Samson, a blind captive to the very enemy he’d spent his life fighting, yet in his last breath pulling down the temple pillars and killing more in that one moment than he had his whole life previously.  Ask the three Hebrews, ripped from their homes in Israel, carried off to Babylon, only to be thrown into the fire… then walking about in those flames, having the confining ropes burned off their hands and leaving the furnace with not even the smell of smoke on them.  Ask Jesus, who visited Hell itself and took back the right to restore our desperate souls, but only after having gone through the cross and the events of betrayal and torture leading up to it.

Look to hope.  Hold on.  And when you have been broken down and come through stronger, offer some hope to your comrades.  That is the lesson of super heroes. 

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