Last week I listened to a fascinating interview of a guy by the name of Sean Stephenson. Sean was born in 1979 with a rare condition that not only caused his bones to be extremely fragile, but also stunted the growth of his body. Because of Sean’s condition, his body only grew to be three feet tall. He does not have the ability to walk because his bones cannot physically support standing or walking.
Because of his condition, Sean experienced more than 200 bone fractures by the time he was 18 years old. At birth, almost every bone in his body was crushed because of the trauma of going through his mother’s birth canal. While growing up, if he twisted the wrong way or reached too far for something, he would end up fracturing one of his bones. One time when he was a young boy, after coming down with the flu, Sean broke his collarbone from the typical body movements associated with vomiting.
In the interview I listened to, Sean talked about one event that changed the course of his life. One day, when he was 9 years old, he caught his left foot on the corner of a door while he was rolling around on the floor. He immediately heard his femur bone snap (the bone that extends from the knee to the hip). When he felt the pain and realized what had happened, he experienced a “white hot anger” and all of his pent-up frustration and anger caused him to scream out: “Why me, God? What did I ever do to deserve this?”
His mom rushed into the room. While he continued to scream from the pain, she knelt down next to him and started running her fingers through his hair to calm him down. She looked straight into his eyes and said:
“Sean, is this going to be a gift or a burden in your life?”
At first he didn’t understand what she meant. He said that it was as if she was speaking a foreign language to him. Gifts were something you got on your birthday or for Christmas. Then something happened to him:
“My life changed forever. There was this warm, I call it a ‘wind of wisdom,’ that just surrounded me, and everything was made clear for the rest of my life, in terms of why I was in this condition.
I realized that I loved my life. I really did, amidst all of those fractures. And maybe the purpose to my pain was to teach other people how to love their life amidst their pain.
My mom taught me this one other piece of beautiful wisdom that day. She said, ‘Sean, pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.’
Pain is inevitable. It touches us all.”
In the interview, Sean explained that he grew to understand physical pain. He said that pain was his teacher. He then went on to talk about how pain is a “good thing.”
Before I tell you what he had to say about how pain is a good thing, stop right now and think about what you would say if someone asked you: “What’s the good thing about pain?”
I’m serious. Don’t read any further until you answer that question. “What’s the good thing about pain?” Can you think of a good answer?
Sean’s answer was that the good thing about pain is that “it brings us to the present moment.” He said that even though physical pain can be “rupturing through a person’s body and literally breaking the person in half,” it still has the effect of “tearing that person open to the present moment.” He went on to say that even though a person has pain, he or she can still be happy and at peace.
He then explained what he believes is the difference between pain and suffering. He said that suffering comes directly from how our minds perceive the future and the past, and anyone who is unhappy is either living in the future, afraid (what he calls the “But what if…”), or they are living in the past (what he calls the “But why?”).
Sean talked throughout the interview about the importance of living in the present moment (“because that’s where life really happens”).
I think he has a good point. We tend to live the better part of our life focusing on the wrongs of the past, or the negative things that could happen to us in the future, while ignoring what we should be thinking and doing in the present moment.
The one person that comes to my mind that seemed to live in the present moment most of the time was Mother Teresa. Because of her prayerful life and her heroic faith, she had no animosity toward what happened to her in the past, and she had no fears or concerns about what could go wrong in the future. She just lived in the moment and left everything else up to God. I guess that’s what saints do.
Sean Stephenson has come a long way since that moment in time when he screamed out in anger toward God. He is now a board-certified psychotherapist and has his own private practice in Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois. You can find his website at timetostand.com. In May, 2009, he came out with his 4th book, Get Off Your “But”: How To End Self-Sabotage And Stand Up For Yourself. Sean also has a new television show coming out called 3-Foot Giant.
I feel like a 1 inch giant compared to this guy. Especially after considering what he’s been able to accomplish with all of his limitations. Do you feel the same way?
Now is as good a time as any to seriously think about how our own issues and self-imposed limitations (along with our own laziness) hold us back from doing what God created us to do.
We were all created to be giants. It’s time we prove to ourselves and to God that we are not going to waste the talents and gifts that He blessed us with.