My archives are not all moved over yet, so I can’t find most of the posts, but we do sometimes muse about suffering here.
We have been trained in the secular world to disregard life as something holy and to understand that our human potential is inextricably tied to our personal freedoms and our domination over those uncontrollable matters of life: death, pain, and joy. This is a great deception. The truth is, just as human expansion upon the earth depended upon someone being willing to explore those uncharted waters marked, “Here be monsters,” our human potential can only grow when it is open to exploring the Unknowable. The vehicle for that exploration is faith. If the monsters of life are pain and suffering, fear and doubt, moving through them is what leads to discovery, growth, and — yes — holiness. God does not give us more than we can endure, but we cannot ascertain on our own precisely how much strength we have.
Suffering, in fact is the great leveler – the thing that brings us to a common ground of pleading and unavoidable transition. It might even be the thing that binds us, if we can be bothered looking around at other people’s lives rather than obsessing on our own.
Suffering does not bypass the rich or skip over the poor; it is not confined only to agnostics, or doled out in extra measure to saints, and because this is true inevitability, suffering may be one of the “most fair” parts of our lives. When we cannot see that, we allow suffering to make us bitter and resentful as we think, “it’s not fair. That person gets to walk, but my son is in a wheelchair. That person lived to be 90 while my brother died so young. That couple had 50 years together, and we so pitifully few. That woman got to keep her children and see them grow into middle age…”
John F. Kennedy once said, “whoever said life was ‘fair?’” but in one sense it really is. We all get a turn in the crucible. And what we do with our time there — how open we are to being shaped and molded in that white hot heat — has a lot to do with whether our lives can continue to sustain beauty, or love, or hope or joy.
A “life fully lived” is not about having many things, or knowing many people. It is about how we deal with what is before us, and who is around us. If suffering will come to us all, then we either admit it into the fullness of our lives, and find joy, or we push it away, and remain incomplete.
Chelsea Zimmerman was told, when she was 17 that she would never walk again. Over at Patheos she has this to say about suffering:
Why does hatred of suffering lead to decreased respect for human life? Because refusing to suffer is refusing the totality of living. It is a rejection of life itself. [...] I’m not going to lie. The past eleven years have not been easy. But that doesn’t mean they have been “too hard” to take, or that joy has eluded me. I’m still a human being, I’m still alive, and my life still has meaning and infinite value despite my challenges and limitations. What’s more, experiencing adversity has provided me with an elite (and extensive) education in the practical living-out of those valuable virtues: humility, patience, courage, and perseverance. . . We think that by pushing all that is imperfect and difficult out of our sights, we are showing the tenderness of our hearts, when all we are really betraying in our fear, and how it owns us.
But we needn’t be owned.
Read it all; suffering brings wisdom
Meanwhile, Rick at Brutally Honest has a video of a young seminarian — a former naval officer who had deployed twice to the Persian Gulf — who is dying of brain cancer. Rick writes:
We live in an entertainment age where we are easily bored or distracted unless nearly all of our senses are engaged. It’s a sad fact.
[This talk by the seminarian]. I can’t call it riveting [by today's standards]. What I can call it is enlightening. I can call it wisdom. I can call it a dose of reality that we need to hear. I can call it that which we should all listen to because the fact is that if you live long enough (and for this young man, not so long enough), you’re going to suffer.
Set aside 30 quiet minutes and listen to what he has to say. It may just prepare you for something you’ll appreciate later in life. It may give meaning to that which you’re experiencing now.
No, it’s not riveting. It’s just necessary.
Go watch the video; suffering gives us courage and resilience, and hope.
We mustn’t be afraid to suffer. The truth is, even if we are not Christian, even if we have no faith at all, in contemplating the crucifix, we contemplate great suffering, and One who knows precisely what it’s all about.