Suffering as a Great Teacher

suffering

“Many of us are tempted to think that if we suffer, the only important thing is to be relieved of our pain.  We want to flee it at all costs.  But when we learn to move through suffering, rather than avoid it, then we greet it differently.  We become willing to to let it teach us.   We even begin to see how God can use it for some larger end. Suffering becomes something other than a nuisance or a curse to be evaded at all costs, but a way into deeper fulfillment.  Ultimately mourning means facing what wounds us in the presence of the One who can heal.”  –Henri Nouwen Turn My Mourning into Dancing

Pain?  Well, it sucks.  Physical/Emotional/Mental/Spiritual?  The whole family of unwanted visitors kinda sucks to have to greet at the doorstep of your heart and soul.  Once they show up, our instinct is to bid our time until they leave.  They are an obstacle to be avoided, a distraction to be waited out . . . rid ourselves of pain as soon as humanly possible.

Aren’t we Americans?  Aren’t we entitled to lives of life, liberty and the pursuit of all things happy?  We are consumers in this great mythology of the American Dream.  We consume attention, affection, influence and power . . . we in no way want to be denied.   We desire a life where we have needs and the world exists to meet them.  We are the fuzzy center of the world’s great resources, our satisfaction depends on it.  Mourning makes us poor, nothing American about that I don’t think.  Through pain-avoidance, we seek the easy victories, “growth without crisis, healing without pain” (Nouwen).  In pain avoidance, we may be ignoring one of life’s greatest teachers.  Suffering may have the marrow of life your bones need.

The big-boy lesson is not whether unkind things happen to us, but rather what does our ‘adulting’ look like for how we respond.  How do we relate to life’s circumstances?  If we can’t negotiate the terms of our suffering, then how do we choose to walk in them?  Do we rebel against the process, seek to avoid the pain, hole up and bid our time til the storm passes or look for the easy button?  Or do we submit to the process for the learning that it may bring?  Can we find the humility to recognize our limitations and our smallness in a cosmos that is vast and yet personal?

The questions in my suffering often are:  What did I do wrong?  What’s the matter with me?  I become uberly self-critical, unkind towards myself and I lose the space of gratitude for the things I do have.  I could ask the question:  What can I learn in this?  How can this circumstance be a great teacher in my life?   Functionally I can greet the guest of Suffering differently and from a different place.  Not as a victim or an accuser of myself, but as a constant learner of wisdom and as one who is forever on a quest for a deeper experience of humanity.

Living graciously, gratefully and open to the learnings of life’s circumstances, I become free in my suffering and not a slave of it’s all encompassing powers.  The freedom of resurrection doesn’t come by avoiding the cross, it comes from the courage to embrace the cross differently.  The humility makes us small, but as we yield to the Great Teacher of Suffering, she makes us into something more beautiful and more free.  Don’t run from it, embrace it.

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