From fairy tales to films, to epic novels there is always a hero, a victim and a villain. Although it may not be clear at the beginning of the story, we all know by the end of it who the heroes, the victims and the villains are, it’s pretty obvious. A good villain makes you angry, even scared at times, a victim can be frustrating to watch, but the hero, well, you kind of want to be like them a little bit. The interesting thing is that despite their differences in personality, all three characters have a lot more in common than you might think.
A hero, a victim and a villain, all have a back story of pain. Think of Harry Potter and Voldermort, both orphaned as children, or Toy Story 3 where Lotso and Woody had both been abandoned by their owners. Okay I know I’m just thinking of kids films but how about Batman and the Joker in the Dark Knight. You get what I mean?
The villain, as we all know, is not a nice person. Yes, they’ve suffered, their back story of pain often illustrated by some kind of physical scar and yes, their suffering was often unfair, but the villain generally ends up using the bad things that have happened to them to get their own back and to put others down. They’re angry and they don’t care who they hurt on their journey towards justice. A villain doesn’t struggle with self-doubt, believing their behaviour is justified because of the pain they’ve gone through. In most stories, villains attack and challenge the hero, but in others the villain is the main character. In Breaking Bad and the Godfather trilogy, the story is told through the villain’s eyes, their experience of pain leading them down a path where they seek power to fight the conflict present in their lives, stopping at nothing to gain control. Although an infertility diagnosis and facing the reality of a life you never wanted is unlikely to send you down a Walter White spiral, the injustice of your pain has the power to affect your relationships in negative ways, fuelling and justifying bitterness towards those who have what you want or just towards life in general. I get it, you’re angry. I’ve been so angry at times, angry at the insensitivity of young mums, angry that for some having a baby is so easy and yet for me trying for a family just brings further pain, angry that my body has failed me. I’ve had fake arguments in my head with people, I’ve had many real arguments with my husband, I’ve dreamt up countless unbalanced angry blog posts I could write, I’ve searched for ways to express my frustration at the injustice of my situation.
Anger is part of the grieving process, it’s natural, but it’s what you do with your anger and your pain that has the power to change your story
Anger is part of the grieving process, it’s natural, but it’s what you do with your anger and your pain that has the power to change your story. You may not be here yet, but there will come a time when you’ll begin to feel a bit stronger and you will have a choice. Feed the anger you hold towards the injustice of your pain and explore ways to get your own back, submit to the injustice or begin to search for ways to create something good out of the reality you find yourself in. That’s the choice of the hero, the villain and the victim.
Now some of you may feel uncomfortable identifying yourself as a hero, I get it, it’s not very British to assume the best role for yourself. But this isn’t a Bond film we’re talking about, this is your life. You may think making yourself the hero of your own life sounds selfish, but it depends on how you define a hero. The best heroes I know or have read about are anything but selfish. The hero is a person who struggles, who doubts themselves, who knows pain and grief, a hero is often one who makes sacrifices for those they love and even those who hate them. A hero knows pain but what makes them a hero is that they don’t let their suffering control or define them. The difference between a hero and a villain, is that the hero decides to use their pain for good, they learn from their struggle, they let it teach them, they let it change them, often resulting in them creating a better reality for many people, just like Mother Teresa or Harry Potter, Martin Luther King or Frodo, Malala Youseafzai or Luke Skywalker, Nelson Mandela or Woody, just like Jesus. They may sound like extreme examples to aspire to, but there are also everyday heroes we’re surrounded by, whose heroism is no less valuable. People who’ve acknowledged their pain and used it to help others. I know people who’ve lost children and now choose to spend their time supporting and fundraising for families whose children have terminal illnesses. People who’ve cared for elderly parents with dementia and now run support groups for others doing the same. People suffering with depression who reach out to mentor and support others with mental health issues. All these people have known pain, they have struggled but they all decided to search for ways to redeem their pain and in doing so their suffering ceased to be suffering, because out of their pain they have created something glorious. Despite experiencing rejection, physical abuse, grief and depression, extreme sacrifice, even death these people never identified themselves as victims. Being a victim will end your story.
Being a victim will end your story
Victimhood gives you an excuse not to try, a reason to do nothing. It surrenders to the greater force attacking it, it loses hope, it becomes passive. I know there have been times when I’ve been so weakened by my situation that I’ve chosen to do nothing,to not engage with a medical diagnosis or even leave the houses, choosing to sit on the sofa and eat crisps rather than fight to find a new purpose for my life. Now I am the last person to discourage anyone from sitting on the sofa eating crisps, everyone who struggles should be allowed sofa and crisp/chocolate moments and even if you’re not struggling you still deserve some time lying down shoving deep fried potatoes in your mouth. But there will come a time when either your metabolism or the world’s supply of Doritos will give up and once again, you will have to make a decision – do you want to stay on the sofa and move onto another form of unhealthy snack food, or do you want to start living again?
There can be a lot of injustice in suffering, there’s a lot of injustice in the story of infertility and miscarriage. I don’t know why men and women who would make fantastic parents are denied the opportunity of having their own kids, when others who’s lives are headed towards destruction can have children so easily. It’s not fair. But this injustice is also found in the story of God and His people, who, throughout history have lived through great suffering and pain they did not deserve, but time and time again God has brought good from their struggle. From Joseph to Jesus, God has been in the business of redeeming pain, of turning victims and villains into heroes. Heroes who have been used to save many lives. Some of you have experienced so much loss, so much trauma, so much pain. And what I believe God wants to do is to pick you up and say ‘hey, evil one, look what you tried to do with my child’s story, now watch what I do with it, watch what I turn their pain into, it will be beautiful, it will inspire people, it will create something of lasting value.’
But being friends with the creator of the universe doesn’t mean you can just stay sat on the sofa eating potato based snacks until God sorts your life out or an angel appears and miraculously heals you or Jesus comes back. When has God ever not chosen to involve His people in His working out of redemption? Never, God doesn’t work alone. The life of a Christian hero is not passive. God calls us to work with him, He involves us. Yes, you’re likely to mess things up, but He still invites you to be part of bringing hope and healing to this world. There are too many limp hand-shaking Christians who are just sat on the sofa waiting for God make their lives perfect when maybe He’s actually waiting for them to join Him.
The pain of infertility is not special, pain is universal in a broken world, it’s what you do with that pain that makes you special
So we, those who suffer, have a choice. Do we let the injustice of our pain pin us down, keeping us captive as victims? Do we let the pain and isolation justify our anger at those who have what we want, fuelling an attack on those who don’t understand our pain? Or, do we acknowledge the injustice, feel the pain but refuse to let it dictate a future of suffering? This isn’t about looking on the bright side, this is about grit and nerve and determination. It’s about a choice and this choice doesn’t come easy. You can’t just jump into the hero role straight away, you have to grieve what’s been lost before you can move forward. Only in the pain do we begin to learn. A meaningful life isn’t dependent on what you have, it’s dependent on what you do with it: how can you use the pain you’ve gone through to serve other people?
The pain of infertility is not special, pain is universal in a broken world. It’s what you do with that pain that makes you special. It’s the role you choose to play out that can make a difference in the world. I used to see my pain as a problem, the barrier to living a better life, to stopping me living the great story I wanted to live. But now it’s the opposite, it’s helped me live a better story. Because after all the best stories aren’t the ones told through films or books, they’re the stories we tell with our lives.