You’ve likely heard the saying, “don’t cry over spilt milk.” I grew up with it. And when I recently dropped – and shattered – a large bottle of organic milk just after bringing it home from the store, I began pondering the saying’s deeper meaning, and how it might relate to ministry. Scripture is clear: God is “near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit,” (Psalm 34:18) and those who mourn are blessed, “for they shall be comforted.” (Jesus’ Beatitudes, in Matthew 5).
Each of us has “spilt milk” in our lives. Something that had value, and is now irretrievably lost. Something that could have nourished us, or some lost opportunity to nourish others. Something that, in the process of breaking, also hurt us deeply. Like the shattered container of milk, or a painfully hurt toe on which groceries have landed, each of us has experienced some sort of brokenness.
During the holiday season, our sense of loss can be magnified. So it’s healthy to look for ways to bring blessing from this brokenness. That’s the spirit of the “wounded healer,” which has been found to be so effective in uplifting others from their pain. And, when we see the healing that results, we heal ourselves as well.
I recently watched as my husband dropped a heavy bag of groceries – including another glass bottle of milk – right on his toe. The toe broke the fall of the milk, and the glass did not shatter. But his toe was black and blue for more than a month. Since I was already smitten by the spilt milk metaphor, I began to ponder ways in which we can get in the way of a greater brokenness, but pay a price for it.
What if the price comes first, and we only learn later about what didn’t shatter, as a result? Consider this example: 30 years before The Great Recession, a teen faces an unexpected financial challenge. Managing to graduate college by a whisker, this same person, decades later, suggests an emergency fund for students in similar circumstances. In an upside-down way, a hurt toe in 1981 caused the milk bottle not to shatter in 2011. Or think for a moment about how many nonprofits have been started by people who overcame an indignity, only to dedicate themselves to stopping the same thing from happening to others! Can it help heal our current pain, to think how what we are suffering now could possibly lead to helping uplift others in some way we don’t yet know or understand? Is that one way to interpret “suffering for someone else?”
The song “Medicine for Someone Else” embodies an attitude of “enlightened self-interest.” The lyrics suggest we take the trials, the pain, and the tears, and use them to help heal others. When you’re suffering a loss, consider all the harm that befell Joseph – sometimes at the hand of his own family – and how much benefit arose from it. As he put it: “you meant evil against me, but God used it for good.” (Gen 50:20)