Doesn’t it always seem as though others have it easier than we do? We can be so sure that our cross is heavier and our lives more miserable than the next person’s. And so we grumble and complain and even become jealous and resentful of what appears to be the good fortune of others.
Or, at least we are positive that they can’t possibly be suffering as much as we are.
When I see that happening, I’m reminded of the parable of the widow and her two coins.
“He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, “‘Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood’” (Mk 12:41-44).
The most common interpretation of this Gospel is that Jesus is using the example of the widow to teach about charity in regard to material goods. For me, it’s a jab in the gut to exercise charity in suffering as well.
When we’re experiencing a particular kind of suffering, it’s easy to assume that others who don’t suffer the same way don’t suffer at all. For example, if we’re struggling with un- or under-employment, we can be skeptical of people we know who are fully employed. It seems they’re not suffering at all because they’re not suffering in the same way that we are.
But we don’t know the whole picture. Those who are fully employed might not be scrambling for work, but they might be scrambling to re-unite a divided family or bring their children back to the church. Just because they don’t carry the same cross we do doesn’t mean that they don’t carry one at all.
Sometimes we do know the whole picture – or at least a good part of it – and still judge our suffering to be worse than others’. How many times have you listened to a friend lament over a difficulty – say, a physical ailment – and said either to yourself or directly to the person, “Oh, come on. It can’t be that bad!”
Maybe it is that bad. Or maybe it’s even worse. Just because we think we could handle it with ease doesn’t mean it’s easy for the other to handle.
In all of these cases, the parable of the poor widow has a good lesson. The widow gave two small coins out of her own limited resources. She contributed all she had. It could be that those who seemingly don’t suffer as much as we do are contributing all that they have, too. Just as each person’s pain threshold is unique, each person’s capacity for suffering is unique. The cross that may be exceedingly heavy for one person might seem fairly light for another.
God allows the amount of suffering that is specifically tailored to the individual. He doesn’t do it randomly, and most certainly not cruelly, but with great love and care.
Our suffering is just that: our suffering. Although we all commonly suffer due to the effects of original sin, we don’t bear a common suffering. Yet, we all do our best to bear the suffering we’re given, according to our abilities and shortcomings.
The widow gave two small coins, and for her, that was a fortune. We have to remember that when we evaluate our own suffering and the suffering of others.
(Fenelon, a mother of four, and her husband, Mark, belong to St. Anthony Parish, Milwaukee. Visit her website: www.margefenelon.com.)