In Lake Wobegon, the folks of Norwegian stock are a tough lot. They are not easily excited, except perhaps by a flock of errant geese inside the local Catholic church, Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility. The opposite is true too. They rarely complain when things go awry. Like water off the backs of those geese, frustrations and adverse events (like a failed rhubarb pie), simply cause a momentary pause in their lives. They merely shrug and say, “It could be worse.”
Of course, in real life—the life you and I actually live—much worse things happen than a failed pie, brownies made with salt rather than sugar, or a car that won’t start one cold morning. Sometimes there is very great suffering. Sometimes there is great frustration and grief and tragedy and anguish.
What do we say then? “It could be worse”? Is that the response of true contentment?
Sometimes—perhaps all the time—this is how we deal with problems in our lives. Our idea of contentment is so shallow that we resort to trite expressions which largely mean nothing, and console no one (including ourselves).
And the truth is, it could be worse. Any tragedy and grief can be magnified. Is our rest and recourse merely to acknowledge that we have not suffered ultimate suffering? Doesn’t this make other sufferings, penultimate sufferings, seem of little account?
The insipid statement that “It could be worse” is useless. We cannot deal with our lesser grief and lesser disappointments merely by acknowledging that they could be greater.
Further, these sufferings cannot be truly understood only by recognizing that God has given me much peace and goodness in other areas. The loss of a child is not assuaged by the recognition that I have another child who is healthy or that I have a good job.
So what, then, do we do?
Amy Carmichael (1867-1951) suffered greatly in her life, particularly after a severe fall which injured her so severely that she was confined to bed for many years. She wrote:
“It is twenty-one years this year since I could sit up, and for nineteen years it has been this one position in bed; but isn’t it wonderful that He enables us to triumph, and to rejoice in Him?”
What?! She had been bed-ridden for 21 years? Note that her response was not, “It could be worse. I could have been in bed for 22 years.” Such a statement is cold and uncaring and trivializes her pain.
No. Her response, her source of true contentment, is not that it could have been worse, but that she is able to rejoice in God, to triumph in Him who has made her—and us—“more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37).