Nobody likes suffering. It is the worst part of being human. The most confusing. The most difficult to endure.
Yet suffering is not something we can completely avoid. Although we spend our whole lives trying to be comfortable and affirmed, suffering finds us. It can come in the form of tragedy or apathy, anger or depression. But suffering is something we have to address. It is something we have to figure out how to deal with if we are going to live a meaningful existence.
The biggest concern we have in the wake of suffering is the question why. Why is this happening? Why is the world like this?
There are no easy answers for the design of the world. But if we look at it as a purely human investigation, there is a troubling truth that we would rather not acknowledge. The truth is that suffering is a part of the process of the most important things in life. Intimacy develops through suffering. Character is broken down and grown.
Suffering makes joy more beautiful. It is, ironically and infuriatingly, a part of joy. Pain is a part of the human experience and it isn’t all bad. Which is little comfort for those who are suffering.
The truth is we know this at some level. But are annoyed by it. We are annoyed at the way things are. We want them to be different. Easier. But they aren’t. And they won’t be. Suffering is a part of the human experience.
Vision as Motivation
One of the silver linings of suffering is that it serves as a sort of litmus test for the things we are connected to. There are all sorts of things we attach to: people (relationships), sports teams, jobs, hobbies. The world is full of options. An overwhelming kaleidoscope of options. It is hard to know what the right things are to invest in.
Suffering can help. We make our decisions about where to be involved based on our perspective/expectations for how that thing is going to turn out or provide for us. We’re not very good fortune tellers. Truth is harder than we think it will be, reality more complicated than our list of biased expectations.
Suffering tests our vision. It puts it through the wringer to help us discover if it truly matters to us. The only thing that motivates us through suffering is a true commitment to our vision. If we encounter suffering and the desire to quit and start something new is stronger than the desire to press through the suffering for the sake of the vision before us, we have learned something important about the vision we set out after.
Of course, there is a challenge in this. Do we want to quit because it is hard or because our vision is flawed? It is usually a mixture of the two, the latter weighing heaviest in most circumstances.
Suffering can be an aid. It forces us into a challenging decision: quit or persevere. Is the thing you are chasing worth the struggle? Worth the challenge? Worth the pain that comes from growth? If the answer is ‘no’, there is another vision that you value more and it is time to start looking for it. If it is ‘yes’, your pain will be redeemed as you are deeply in the thick of what it really means to chase your vision.