Why is it that when bad things happen to some people they emerge better and stronger at the other end of the crisis while other people shrivel up and build steel walls to keep others out?

Eight years ago, my son was diagnosed with leukemia right before his eleventh birthday. Because his age put him at a higher risk, his treatment plan was harsh and everything that could go wrong did go wrong. We spent a lot of time in the hospital the first year of his almost four-year struggle. 

When you’re in and out of a small isolated hall on the fourth floor of the children’s wing, bonding with other parents becomes natural. Seeing the same faces over and over makes for fast friendships. Especially when you’re taking cover in the same sterile foxhole.  

Years later, a few of those moms I befriended have grown stronger, others have broken, and some are barely hanging on years after cancer rocked their world. It almost doesn’t seem to matter if the child made it to remission or not. 

When something bad happens, you have two choices. Be bitter or be better.

So what made the difference in these moms? Personality? Personal beliefs? Support system?

From my experience, I would have to say none of those things.

I believe hope made the difference. But not any hope. Hope in something real. Hope in something outside of ourselves. Hope in a life-changing God. 

If you choose to be bitter, you build your future on rage and hate and resentment. And really when you think about that, all that anger only hurts you. That big ball of acid tartness you’re carrying around your heart only eats at you. No one else. The bitterness steals your joy and renders you useless to reach out to anyone else.

“Another man dies in bitterness of soul, never having enjoyed anything good” (Job 21:25 NIV).

If you choose to be better, you let all the bad stuff go. You ask God to take an extremely horrible situation and make something beautiful. He can, you know. He’s the only one that can turn ugly into exquisite. He uses your trials to transform and uses you to help others. 

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:2-5).

The next time you face a trauma, remember you aren’t powerless. You have the will to choose, will this struggle make you bitter or better?

Lori Freeland is a freelance author from Dallas, Texas with a passion to share her experiences in hopes of connecting with other women tackling the same issues. She holds a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is a full-time homeschool mom. You can find Lori at lafreeland.com and regularly blogging on Crosswalk.

Publication date: November 20, 2012