Tom Wallace tells the story of a time when he received a phone call in which he was told that a certain family was in need of pastoral comfort in the emergency room of the local hospital. Tragically, the family’s twelve-year-old son had accidently shot the nine-year-old brother. The brother wasn’t dead, but he was in critical condition.
Wallace drove to the emergency room and found the father, mother, and older brother gathered in the waiting area. The father and mother were expectedly distraught, but the older son was quite and somber. He seemed to be in shock. When Wallace talked with the father, the father even said that he was more worried about the older son’s condition than the younger son’s.
Wallace went over to talk to the older son and found the boy staring blankly at the wall. Try as he might, Wallace could not get the boy to respond to anything he said. After staying a while, Wallace finally gave up and went back home.
The next day Wallace returned to the hospital and found that the son who had been shot was doing much better. Additionally, the older son was now back to his usual self. When Wallace asked what had happened that had made such a difference in the demeanor of the older son, he was told that another preacher had stopped by the day before after Wallace had left. That other preacher had reached that older brother by telling him, “I know how you feel. I shot my brother when I was your age.” Once that older son had heard that preacher’s testimony and helpful words, the healing process had begun.
What did Tom Wallace do wrong in attempting to minister to that boy? Nothing. Was it his fault he wasn’t able to reach the boy? No. The problem was that Tom Wallace simply couldn’t relate to the boy’s experience, and the boy instinctively knew that. But once the boy learned that the other preacher could personally relate to what had happened, he was all ears to that man.
This story illustrates one reason why God sometimes allows us to go through bad experiences. He does it because He knows that people who live in ivory towers, completely aloof from all the pain and suffering that goes on in the world, make poor comforters. It takes a victim of cancer to truly relate to the pain felt by a victim of cancer. It takes someone who has wrecked a car to truly relate to the pain felt by a driver who has wrecked a car. It takes a parent who has lost a child to truly relate to the pain felt by a parent who has lost a child. It takes a student who has failed a test to truly relate to the pain felt by a student who has failed a test. It takes a divorcee to truly relate to the pain felt by a person who is going through a divorce. It takes someone who has been unjustly wronged to truly relate to the pain felt by a person who has been unjustly wronged. To sum up, you can’t fully relate to a patient who is recovering from surgery unless you can show that patient the scar from your own surgery.
With this in mind, let me encourage you to take all the pain you endured as part of your bad experience and use it as a foundation from which you minister to others who are having to endure a similar experience. Rather than let that bad experience act like water that douses the fire of your ministry, figure out a way to convert the experience into gasoline that enlarges that fire. Remember, there is someone out there right now who is currently going through something either identical to or very similar to what you have gone through, and you can be the voice of comfort in that person’s life if you are willing to play that role. Additionally, the good news is that if you are willing to play that role, there is an unforeseen bonus that will come as a result of your effort. And what will that bonus be? Well, it goes like this: As you minister to that person, what you’ll find is that you’ll be ministering to yourself as well.