As a child, sometimes I wished that God would send me a lifetime of suffering all at once, a few seconds of horrible pain, and then I’d be happy for the rest of my life. That amount of pain would probably have killed me. And had I survived, I probably would not have learned from the experience.
I cannot understand all the evil, pain and suffering in the world; I have not been given that ability. For surely, like a lifetime of pain all at once, that insight would crush me. Sometimes I feel that I lack the strength to carry the weight of my own worries and responsibilities. But I now know that the moment I feel this way, I have a choice: some combination of denying what’s happening, blaming others and pitying myself or suffering well by listening to voices inside and out, asking questions and listening to answers. Suffering, then, might be less a curse. Failure and adversity could be a path for me to learn to be a better person.
Surely, one of the most painful events in my life was the break up of my first marriage. After so many years of hard work, I couldn’t fail, I told myself. This couldn’t be happening. Of course, I blamed him more than me, and cried pitifully and burdened many others. When I started dating again, it was a repeat performance – I hadn’t learned much of anything. So I stopped, took a hard look in the mirror and asked questions. Why had my marriage really failed? What part had I played? Who was I? Who did I want to be? What did I need to do to be worthy of the gifts I’d been given? To be worthy of the kind of partner I might want? I asked God to guide me, and I asked my trusted friends. The answers turned me to new techniques to try and practice.
I continue to work on myself and make mistakes – and I know that beating myself up for being less than perfect is just another avoidance ploy, and forgiving myself works only if I follow through with the things I need to address. So although ‘self-compassion’ might help one stay calm in times of stress, if I want the situation to change, I need to self-assess thereafter and course-correct as necessary. Also, when I need support, I try to reach inward not to myself but inward and outward to God.
I cannot solve the world’s problems. I am not omnipresent; I am not omnipotent; I cannot control others; I am not meant to be perfect. But I do have the power to make decisions, make good use of my gifts, suffer well and learn. And instead of God sending me a lifetime of pain in a few seconds, in His wisdom, He gives me no more than I can handle.
Note: My friend Sarah Myers taught me a great deal about suffering well, and I highly recommend her blog: http://thenoontimes.com/.