Almost two hundred years after his death, Beethoven is still one of today’s most studied and influential composers. But before he’d written most of his best-known compositions, he wanted to kill himself because of his excruciating suffering. He started losing his hearing in his twenties, and it never came back. A brilliant musician losing his ability to hear music? That’s tragic. Not only did he deal with that, but he also had chronic stomach pains and many people today also think he struggled with bipolar disorder. The most heartbreaking thing is that none of his health issues were ever diagnosed or properly treated.
And yet, look at what he went on to accomplish. His compositions are so well known that people who know next to nothing about classical music can hum along with his music.
I don’t know about you, but that inspires me. It almost makes me wish that I could say I’d overcome obstacles so great. Because that’s where true greatness is achieved: in the face of almost overwhelming obstacles. The apostle Paul says that when we are weak, Christ’s strength is more apparent in us (2 Corinthians 12:9).
The truth is that all of us have something we’ve struggled against. But we often don’t want to face it, because it seems like we’re whining, or we don’t want to admit weakness. So we just pretend it didn’t happen and that everything’s fine. And so we soldier on. But the truth is this: unacknowledged struggles lead to current weaknesses.
Take me, for example. I’m a ridiculously blessed wife and mother. I grew up going to church, in a stable home and family. But when I was seventeen, my parents divorced. My dad’s betrayals came out and it rocked my home, just as I was finishing my senior year in high school. At the time, I tried not to make a big deal about it.
But more than ten years later, I still had problems forgiving my dad. I’m not the Almighty God, who can somehow separate Christians from their sins when they ask for forgiveness. I’m just a human, and I still felt waves of pain from this deep wound. I also still experience trust issues with my husband, and the almost crazed desire to receive an apology and admission of guilt when I’ve been wronged (something my dad never offered my mom or us).
To overcome these current weaknesses, I have to examine my past wounds. Just as a doctor can’t treat symptoms unless he knows the cause of them, I have to understand why I have these problems so I can guard against them. I have to mentally force myself to separate my dad’s decisions from my husband’s, so I don’t doubt his words or suspect him of wrongdoing. I also have to cultivate a spirit of forgiveness, consciously understanding that the ways people disappoint me usually aren’t intentional.
After undergoing treatment for your wounds, you must next give it some air and light. The best way to heal is through sharing past struggles. I don’t think we’ve fully faced and overcome them until we’ve shared them with someone else. It could be someone you just met, or an old friend, or a sibling. Your school counselor is someone you can trust—it’s his or her job to listen without judgment, offer support and keep what you say confidential. You don’t have to shout it from the rooftops or write a book about it. God will place people in your path who will gain courage from your story, so give that to them, and in doing so, set yourself free from your secret pain and guilt.
Your past is not perfect, and neither are you. There’s no reason to pretend they are. Jesus accepts your burdens, and gives you rest in exchange (Matthew 11:28). To hand them over, you’ve got to know what they are, and consciously release them.
Beethoven’s compositions aren’t great for a deaf composer; they’re great. You too, can accomplish great things for God, but not if you let your past struggles hold you back. Own your struggles, because they’ve made you who you are. You endured them so you can help others do the same. Diagnose yourself, and then you can begin treatment and finally bring the past to light.