A spiritual leader got very tired of her flock arguing about whose sufferings was worst. Week after week, not only did they proclaim the supremacy of their own suffering, but they demeaned their neighbors as not being justified in their personal suffering.
They each thought, "If my pain was as little as theirs, I could laugh and be joyous, rather than be forced to go about with this pained look in my eye."
The leader called her flock together around a gnarly little tree one winter day and handed each person a pencil and an envelope with a string through a hole in the corner, and a blank piece of paper inside.
"I have been very troubled that many of you feel that Spirit has given you a more severe burden to carry than your neighbors. I took this heartfelt concern to prayer with me, and Spirit has offered a solution.
We will each take the blank paper out of the envelope, write down our personal suffering, and put the paper back in the envelope. Write your name on the front of the envelope and find a limb to tie your envelope on.
This is our suffering tree. When you tie your envelope, your suffering, onto the tree, Spirit has promised that you will be free of it. However, as you have left a suffering on the tree, you must take one from the tree. Every person will be allowed to exchange their suffering for any other that they pick off this tree as we walk around it. Once all the sufferings have been taken back from this tree, we will be done, and Spirit promises that each of us will then be more content with the suffering we bear."
It took quite a long time of walking around the tree before anyone took any suffering to be their own. But eventually, the first envelope was claimed. Little by little, every envelope came off the tree, each person claiming the suffering of their choice.
And each person claimed the very same suffering they had hung on the tree... but Spirit was correct. Each one was more content with what was theirs to bear.
This story was contributed by C.G. Walters. For more spiritual material, you can visit his blog.