Damaged goods. That’s how we try to explain our foibles and faults, as if we are simply products of our own circumstances.

Plants have a way of teaching us life lessons, and recovering from injuries is no exception. To be sure, it is not a good idea to allow bad circumstances, i.e., poor watering, injury, disease, pests etc. to ravage a plant and then expect a beautiful flower or bountiful harvest. Similarly, we don’t abuse children to “toughen them up.”

It is nothing short of amazing to see people whom we admire reveal that they were raised in less than an ideal climate.

Some of the true spiritual giants have suffered unusually hard times and have come out to be strong, empathetic, and amazingly productive people.

In fact, lately I wonder if it is because of these troubles, and not in spite of them, that some people become such tremendous Christian examples.

Two of my favorite trees have suffered from my negligent care and have come out amazingly well. The Kwanzan Cherry that had a rope imbedded around the top of its trunk is now a showstopper in April. The parts that died from the wound have left a little “shelf” where the limbs grow. It’s a handy place to get up into when stringing the lights that look so pretty all year long, casting a soft ambience on the patio.

Then there is George Burns, the curly willow tree. He got his name because a careless yard boy made a small fire of garden trash near him, and he got a little singed from the flames. He’s still gorgeous. Even the scars where we lopped off some limbs seem to give him “character.” Sure, we should have pruned him before the extra branches got four inches wide, but sometimes things get put off too long in any garden. Bad stuff happens.

It happens to the best of us. Well…maybe that’s why some of the best seem to have had a rough past. They allowed those trials to make them better people.

It seems that those who are the kindest and most understanding have gone through things that cause them to avoid letting others suffer those experiences. They understand the emotions and struggles of others, because they have been there.

There is a difference between sympathy and empathy.

Sympathy is a “shared feeling,” or “agreement in feeling.”

Empathy, on the other hand, is defined as “the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.”

Empathy is more invested. Sympathy “feels,” but empathy “identifies.” We feel more deeply, as if we were going through the same trials as the person with whom we are empathetic.

There are several patches of creeping phlox throughout the garden, but when this low-growing perennial is trampled on, it dies. This happened to the largest piece of it a few years ago. As if feeling sorry for the middle, the edges also wilted for a while. After replanting the pieces, they did bounce back; then they each grew large and beautiful.

One of the most powerful verses in the Bible is also the shortest. It might indicate how Jesus took on the feelings of those around Him. “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried” (Isaiah 53:4a).

When we go through tough times, it may just be the way to become more empathetic, more caring, and more in tune with the needs of others. We can let these trials make us better tools in God’s toolbox!

On the other hand, we could become “damaged goods.” Which will we choose?

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