Monday, May 20, 2013

responding to suffering

Suffering, pain and misfortune affects us all in drips, handfuls, spades and even truck fulls.
The infamous "why?!"question has been pondered since memory lost in time.
There are religious and philosophical answers to the 'why' of suffering  - in the general sense - but in the specific sense "why is there suffering in - my- life?" I honestly don't think any of us will ever really know this side of our mortal existence.

Obviously, many of  us bring evil upon ourselves by unwise decisions, hanging out with the wrong people, giving in to our carnal hungers and so on. But there is also the side of life which is completely out of our control. Life itself, one minute nurturing and almost heavenly; then turns against us and hurts, attacks and devours.

Here is an example from a day before today (as I write this):

The quote on the wall at 0:34 says it all.

I don't have much time nowadays for armchair philosophers and indeed, Christians, who believe they know exactly why specific suffering happens. Maybe in each of our own lives there are times where we are being chastised - and we know it; but much of it is a mystery and that's just the way it is.

I'm more interested in the question "how do I survive?" and "how do I respond?"

Here are just a few tips that I've learned the hard way in my own life -so if I pass them on to you, then maybe you can benefit a little. I by no means think I really know how to deal with suffering because I don't like pain and avoid it if I get the chance! This is just one beggar passing on scraps of bread to another:

  •  Feel the pain - there are times where it is socially inappropriate to be crying in public or ranting at strangers or work colleagues - but in a safe place where you are with people who accept you ;feel the pain ,cry, talk, ramble, let it all out. Don't let the stoic religious types tell you to keep a stiff upper lip - the Bible is full of people crying out in pain- Jesus cried, the book of Psalms are full of "laments": see Psalms 12, 44, 60, 74, 79, 80, 83, 85, 90, 94, 123, 126   The who book of Lamentations  and Job and to a large extent, Ecclesiastes   is about human suffering and being 'in the moment'. There is a tenancy in some Christian circle to appear happy and in control, all the time; this is not Biblical neither is it reality. When you are in pain and when you are suffering, you need  it let it out in healthy, natural  and safe ways.
  • Shake your fist at God - if you looked at any of the Psalms above - a number of times they say to God - YOU- brought this on me! Now isn't that blasphemous? Won't you be struck by lightning? Apparently not. If we are going to be true believers in what the Bible teaches us - then it is assumed that in the middle of great pain and anguish - that 'getting mad at God' is totally acceptable. Ultimately if you believe God exists (which I obviously do) than there will be times that the only human logical outcome leads back to God as causer or at least 'allower' of some trauma in our lives. You don't believe me? Then - who - said this: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
  •  Move on - Jeremiah the prophet accuses God of totally ruining his life- but then moves on to praise God - see Jeremiah 20:7-13. This is a common theme in the Bible and it goes to be true for us too."But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior; so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail". So, even though we are encouraged to 'vent' at God - it is not healthy to stay angry. Whatever suffering we go through -we move a few steps forward and a couple back - but always in the direction of getting into a place of  acceptance (and hopefully some peace), whatever our lot in life.
  • The big picture is positive - Our lives  -according to the Bible - are part of something bigger, brighter and positive. This teaching is all through the New Testament. We suffer, Jesus suffered .A lot doesn't make sense. But In faith, we believe the promises of  God that we are part of something better.
    Romans 8:18
    I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." 
  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4

See Matthew 5 and plenty of other verses!
  •  Treat people with respect - probably the hardest thing to do when you are in pain - treat people around you with respect. Suffer fools, don't be too hard on others, be considerate to their needs. Romans 12.

  •   Don't lose your sense of humour - perspective is everything. After you recover from the worst of suffering, try and cultivate a grateful and thankful heart. A sense of humour and a sense of fun and play will eventually return. It is a discipline to do so - because feeling sorry for ourselves comes a little too easily. Once again, the Bible encourages us to go down this track. Being thankful is tied up with praying and talking got God:
" Never give up praying. And when you pray, keep alert and be thankfulColossians 4:2

"Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus"   1 Thessalonians 5:18

  • Live a life of compassion - again, I'm no advocate for pain  and I'll continue to avoid it where I can! However, it is interesting that some of the most beautiful and wise people I have met over time have often gone through hardships in their lives and have learned to be empathetic to other people. There are probably reasons for this, but ultimately the pain we go through will lead us to a path with a  crossroads and there are two signs - one says 'bitterness' the other says 'love'. It is a decision we must all take. I hope you will or have chosen the road of love, empathy and compassion. It is a  gentle and ultimately an enjoyable road to travel down.  Trauma in our lives will change us and there is no going back. But each of us has a choice to get up again eventually, dust ourselves off and go forward toward the light that beckons us ahead. 

    " Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ" Galatians 6:2

A snippet after last year's tornadoes - I'm sure the same will happen again this year

But then again some people get their prayers answered....

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