Jerry Sittser on the hope and growth that can spring from deep suffering. Excerpt from A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss (eBook).
During his years in Nazi death camps during World War II, [Dr. Viktor Frankl] observed that the prisoners who exercised the power to choose how they would respond to their circumstances displayed dignity, courage, and inner vitality. They found a way to transcend their suffering. Some chose to believe in God in spite of all the evidence to the contrary… They chose to love, however hateful the environment in which they lived.
In other words, they refused to yield ultimate power to their captors and circumstances. Though the world was horrible to them, they identified with another world — a world inside themselves, over which they had some control. They affirmed that they were more than the product of their circumstances. As Frankl observed [in his book Man's Search for Meaning], these few people tried “turning life into an inner triumph” and so grew spiritually beyond themselves.
It became clear to Frankl that “the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone.” In the end he asserts: “The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action. There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.” …