I was thinking this morning about pain and hardship, especially those endured by my friends. Specifically loneliness: how some long to find that special person they can love and commit to, but after years and years never do. What is the purpose of that kind of pain? And then others find their true love in school (even kindergarten! as I heard on the radio), and have never been alone. Why is fate so random?
If such bounties are a kind of wealth, it made me think of rich and poor people, and of their children. When someone grows up having everything – beauty, health, money, intellect, opportunities – how often they fail to appreciate the real value of it, never having known its loss. In fact, they might have every worldly thing a person could wish for, and still spend a great deal of their time complaining about how things aren’t as they want them to be.
In a poor family, it can be just the opposite. The children, born with nothing, enjoy the smallest things. If they happen to meet with bounty later in their lives, they value it the way a person born to it simply cannot. Such “early poverty” enriches their appreciation, and adds to the savor of the good things they encounter later in life.
It made me think that if I had children, and somehow knew with certainty that they would inherit limitless wealth at the age of forty, which would I choose for them: an early life of wealth, or of poverty?
If they were bound to encounter wealth, wouldn’t starting them in poverty be much better? They would then know both sides, appreciate things better, and understand the lot of the poor. They would know joy and happiness cannot be bought with money, or that the people it attracts are not always what they seem. Starting in poverty would bestow a certain wisdom, maturity, and sense of value; whereas growing up rich would only create expectations of the best, so that when more riches come, they are but another tally mark in the bank-book. What is wealth to a person who already has wealth?
Then I thought of God. If we are His children, and after death are to receive a spiritual inheritance of heavenly joy, peace and reunion, which would God choose for us at the beginning: a life of poverty or of wealth?
For example, if a person is bitterly lonely, year after year, how intensely will they cherish communion with their Lord, once the veils of separation are lifted. Or if they now experience pain and anxiety, how ineffable the sweet strains of peace. Their hardship prepares the heart and attunes the spirit, until even the simplest bounties are a blessed reprieve.
Had we started out with these things and always known them here, what value would they have for us in the next life but an increase in degree? In some ways, life is like a prolonged spiritual fast, a place where love and joy are always momentary and hard-fought. And like the first drink of water at the end of fasting, will not our entrance into eternity offer a sweetness that only a lifetime of anguish could build up to?
Thus I wonder, for all those feelings of loneliness in the world, if these are merely the sure sign that we are being preparing for a long-awaited hug, soon to come, that will never end…