Robin over at Your Daily Dose recently blogged about Compassion versus Empathy and she got me thinking about the times of struggle and pain we all go through. Do you think there is a purpose in it all? Robin suggests that it isn't until we have first-hand knowledge of pain that we can really be empathetic towards others. I think she has a very valid point.
I've been looking at this big piece of equipment for quite a while now:
It's a soil screener belonging to a landscaping firm that rents property from us. At this time of year, whenever I walk to our shop in the mornings, this machine is up and running. Bumpy, rough soil is loaded into one end, and fine, nicely-sifted soil comes out the other. I keep thinking as I go by that I wish there was some kind of machine that would do the same for my heart! Wouldn't it be great if we could put all the rough edges of our characters into a giant sifter, then stand back and watch while our attitudes, thoughts, and actions turned into fine, soft, productive "soil"? There are so many aspects of my character that I would like to improve. There are times when I am selfish, when I wish I would be quicker to put the needs of others before my own. There are times when I am impatient, when I wish I was more tolerant, and slower to anger. There are moments when I am fearful, when I wish I was courageous. I want my character to improve, I just wish there was a magic machine that would do the work for me!
Another image caught my attention recently as well. I was watching a program about agricultural improvements in Kenya and was fascinated to see how grains are winnowed.
Winnowing sorts the grains of wheat from the chaff. The chaff, or husks, are lighter and so by shaking and rolling the basket of wheat, allowing a current of air to pass through, the heavier grains fall into a pile, and the lighter chaff is blown away. Apparently there is a real art to winnowing and I can imagine it takes time to master the technique.
Watching the Kenyan women winnowing with such graceful motions, I was suddenly transfixed with the idea that although it looks beautiful from the point of view of the observer, if I was a grain of wheat, I might not be enjoying the experience nearly as much. The grain is tossed about, rocked back and forth and shaken. I don't know about you, but I don't like it when my life is tossed, rocked and shaken. It's painful. It's uncomfortable. It's positively unsettling! But maybe that is why we experience times like that in our lives, in order for the wheat to be sorted from the chaff.
I guess believing that there might be some purpose to the painful times of our lives helps us to get through them. If we think it is all in vain, then there are times when it would be absolutely unbearable. So the next time it feels like my world is being shaken, I'm going to try to remind myself that maybe I am going through a winnowing process, an opportunity for my character to improve and for me to come out the other side a little finer, a little softer, and perhaps as Robin pointed out, a little more empathetic towards others.