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Sometimes Curses and Blessings are Neither

Broken leg x-ray – hidden blessing? Image courtesy Creative Commons

I learned a lot from my grandfather growing up, including the single most important lesson in my life – which I wrote about here.

However, another profound insight he gave me, that I continually lean on as an adult, is this following bit of wisdom:

“Things are not as bad or great as they first seem.”

Those 11 words are packed with profundity and truth that I see proven on a regular basis. I recently read a fable that perfectly articulates my grandfather’s statement, which I’d like to paraphrase below.

A long time ago, there was a wise man who lived along China’s expansive frontier. Without warning one day, nomadic raiders crossed the border and stole the horse of his young, adult son. The young man was distraught and neighbors tried to console him for the misfortune. But the wise father asked his son, “What makes you so sure this is not a blessing?”

A few months later the young man’s horse returned, bringing with her a magnificent stallion. This time everyone was congratulating the son for his incredible good fortune. This time the wise father asked, “What makes you so sure this isn’t a disaster?”

The fortunes of the family increased with the fine stallion, which the son loved to ride. Then one day the young man was thrown off the horse and broke his hip. Once again, the neighbors offered their consolation for the son’s bad luck but his father asked again, “What makes you so sure this is not a blessing?”

Shortly after the accident the nomadic raiders invaded China and started a war. The Chinese government required all able-bodied men to take up arms and go to battle. The war was devastating for all the border families who lost nearly nine of every ten men.

However, because the son was lame – not only did he survive but so did his father who had avoided the battle to care for his son needs.

The point of the story is that we’ll all experience ups and downs in our lives, but patience mixed with a longer perspective might profoundly shift the ultimate outcome. This reminds me of a relevant scripture:

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Philippians 4:12)

Question: Have you ever experienced a reversal of a good or bad situation?


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  1. Good wisdom!

  2. Sometimes, the best gifts come wrapped in ugly paper. The story you share here is a favorite of mine and one I used in my book, Positivity on Purpose. The concept I point to is that nothing has any meaning except for the meaning we give it. The old man chose not to give meaning to the events he was experiencing while many around him gave either positive or negative meanings. Given a span of time and the meaning may change.

    Thank you for sharing.

  3. When circumstances get tough, ask yourself “what’s the opportunity here?” I’ve been doing that for a long time and it has given me so much clarity. Really, if you think about it, there are ONLY blessings!

  4. This is remarkable similar to an old midrash.
    A corollary to your grandfather’s statement…This, too, shall pass

  5. Thanks Tor for that. It’s all about perspective. I need to change mine often and look from a different vantage point. Good words.

  6. Such a great story. I really like your quote at the beginning,“Things are not as bad or great as they first seem.” I have seen the benefits from having this same mindset. Great post.

  7. God is always turning things upside down. I’ve lost count how many times He’s redeemed situations and circumstances in my life where I’ve been prompted to ask “Why, Lord, it doesn’t make sense.”

  8. Victoria Munoz says:

    Thanks Tor! What a timely message for me today.

  9. So many times. I love Philippians 4:12 most of us can say we have experienced the beginning of the verse its the last half that we need to still learn the lesson.

    Great story about the Chinese son & father. I have never heard that before.

  10. This is part of the Jewish tradition, as well. We never know the full course of events- we tend to judge each item by the microcosm of the view to which we are enabled. Is the death (G0d forbid) of an infant as catastrophic as a lingering malady that leaves the infant in pain and torture for three years as it lingers on? All those folks who are thrilled when they win the lottery and then file for bankruptcy within two years…
    Twould that our auguring capability be multiplied.

  11. Bonnie Anderson says:

    What a wonderful story. After one year of marriage Bob and I moved down here to FL; he planned on finishing his degree here. He was accepted at FTU (now UCF). We put in our notice at our apartment and each of our jobs. Two days before we were scheduled to move we received the deferred notice – too many students so out of state people had to wait. We were ready to go so we moved anyway. Neither of us had jobs and it then looked like school was going to be put off. The first day we were here was the last day to register for the commuity college. They accepted all of Bob’s credits from UM and PGCC, he got his AS in one semester and that degree neatly transferred to FTU. That ended up saving him about a year of schooling. What a blessing! God is so good. I’m sharing your post today.

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