My wife and I are going through a difficult time. We lost a baby to miscarriage a month ago. Other circumstances are making life a challenge for us. We’re hurting. And although our culture is hell-bent on rushing through suffering or covering up it up with platitudes, we are seeing that there is some real value in affliction.
Pervasive individuation makes us falsely believe that all suffering is our own fault, that we could have done something better. This is sometimes true, but not always. We’re also crippled by a fear of failure. We do not know how to fail at doing without failing at being.
The First Hurdle
Because of this, one of the biggest challenges in the face of suffering is to do it honestly. We try to cover our suffering with silver linings and future what ifs. We twinge and wrinkle the pain to try to get it to look like something we are more comfortable with.
What I am learning is that pain is a beautiful opportunity to grow. If I can allow myself to feel the hurt, to experience it for exactly what it is worth, I might just be better on the other side (and even in the midst) of it.
Three Values of Suffering
Isn’t it true that intimacy develops best during suffering? When my wife and I experience some adversity, it is the time we grow together most. Many marriages die in the face of suffering because they cannot stand against the strain of intimacy required to endure it. But to be able to go through something hard with someone. There is no greater bond.
How many people do you now that you love, really, deeply love, that you haven’t been through some mess with?
It is a harsh reality of the human condition that we have to experience the depth of sadness in order to truly experience the heights of joy. In suffering, we learn how to fight for one another. We learn how to sacrifice and agonize boldly. We learn how to stand as the world shakes beneath us. And it strengthens the muscle of intimacy.
The second value of suffering is that it makes us think. It slows us down. It strains us. Churches are never as packed as they are in the weeks after a tragedy. The sorrow drives us to contemplation. The deep cries out. We wonder why and how. It awakens us to the mystery of the world, how much we really don’t know, and how out of control we are.
Although these lessons are hard, they shape and they mold us. They chisel away layers of complacency and fortify layers of resolve and appreciation.
The last value of suffering (at least in this blog) is that equips us to better serve others who are suffering. It expands our empathy. I was shocked to hear how many people have been through a miscarriage. Our struggle gives us an open door to care for others who are suffering.
It Still Hurts
All of this being said, suffering sucks. The value of suffering is in acknowledging it. And it is hard.
We should not gloss over pain just as we should not wallow in it. We can neither dismiss nor fixate over suffering.
We have to be able to say it is painful. We have to own the fact that it hurts and is hard and we don’t like it. But the pain is not the end of the story. The pain is the open door of opportunity.