I was pretty sure my parents were insane when I was a kid. It never made any sense to me when they’d talk about how they’d rather have something bad happen to them instead of to me.
Well folks, that makes three of us, I guess. Being the good little narcissist, I agreed that I didn’t want anything to happen to me, damn the consequences to anyone else. We all go through that developmental stage; some grow out of it and others, not so much. It takes time, experience, wisdom and a broadening of perspective to understand that the avoidance of suffering, in itself, is not the end-game of life.
It’s even harder to understand suffering as a gift.
I posted a piece recently about the birth of my first child. While amazing, it was less than perfect, and definitely not pretty. Still, we saw the miracle at the end of the otherwise bloody, violent process.
After the piece published on a website called The Good Men Project, I got the following email from a woman who read the story:
When I was thirty-four I got pregnant twelve weeks later I had a miscarriage. One week later my sister told me she was pregnant. I never got pregnant again. At thirty-eight I was divorced.
I watched in amazement as my sister gave birth to my niece. I watched her suffer for long hours to give birth to a 7lb baby. I wanted that suffering. Having had a miscarriage, watching her give birth seemed like a miracle to me. She got to have hers, not everyone does. Now at forty-one, single, having a baby seems less likely, but if I did, I wouldn’t know what else to call it other than a miracle.
I enjoyed what I read it made me laugh , your kid sounds funny, I think you’re a lucky man. I guess some would argue that there is no such thing as luck, but it’s just a word. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.
Her references to the miracle of birth were in response to a guy who argued that there was nothing miraculous about childbirth. But what stood out to me was the phrase, “I wanted that suffering.”
It’s one thing to wish you could take on someone’s suffering to keep them from enduring; it’s another entirely to long for that suffering because it represents something you long for, something that makes the suffering pale by comparison.
I can’t help but imagine something similar in the context of Easter. From my perspective, the suffering Jesus experienced was harsh, unwarranted and avoidable. But I expect he had a greater understanding. He had a more enlightened, broader view that placed his suffering into a different context.
Does it make the suffering less? Not really. But there’s something about understanding that there is something greater than the present pain at play that makes whatever we’re undergoing at that moment more bearable.
My father-in-law says that, if you’re going to hurt, hurt for the right reasons. Unfortunately, we often don’t know the reasons – if there is one at all – until after the pain has passed. I’m not to a level of enlightenment by any means that allows me to be grateful for my suffering. But experience does help put each hardship into that broader perspective that makes the next one easier to handle. And hopefully I become just a little bit more Christlike in the process.