Last year I received an invitation to speak at a conference for professionals in the caring professions. The conference, which was attended by doctors, nurses, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, dentists, hospital and army chaplains, missionaries, marriage and family therapists, surgeons and students, was on the topic of pain and suffering. The conference organizers asked me to give a seminar on the topic “Gratitude During Times of Suffering” and my marching orders were simple: explain how it’s possible to remain thankful in the midst extreme of suffering.
Now I’ve never been particularly good at being thankful when things are going wrong. If I have trouble sleeping, I grumble the next day. If I don’t have enough money to buy something I want, I whine and complain to whoever will’; listen. If I have a physical injury, everyone in my circle of friends is sure to know about it. So expecting me to give a talk about practicing gratitude during times of suffering would be like asking ask John Wayne to dance Swan Lake, or asking Justin Bieber to sing the part for Count Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro.
To put it bluntly, I found my assignment daunting. How could I teach other professionals a lesson I had not even mastered myself?
The Japanese have an ancient style of art known as Kintsugi, which is the art of repairing broken pottery with a material mixed with powdered gold or silver. Unlike other repair methods that attempt to disguise the cracks in broken pottery, Kintsugi illuminates the cracks, embracing them as part of the object’s history. When broken pottery is subject to this technique, it actually becomes more beautiful than pottery that was never broken in the first place.
One morning, on a brisk autumnal day in 2015, I drove myself to the hospital in Spokane Washington. My destination was the office of an expert psychiatrist, Dr. Zimmermann.
After parking my car and finding the appropriate building, I took a long elevator ride to the top of the hospital building where my psychiatrist evaluation would commence.
I had been told that Dr. Zimmermann might be able to help with some mental, emotional and physical problems I had developed earlier in the year. Still, I was a little nervous. I liked psychologists and professional counselors—warm-hearted people who listened to your problems with infinite patience. But I was nervous about psychiatrists, who I envisioned walking around in white coats dispensing prescription drugs that merely masked over people’s real problems. Did Dr. Zimmermann fit the stereotype? I would find out in a few minutes.