reflections on suffering, 1 of 5

Trying times test our faith…

Faith in God. Whether God’s existence and, if believing that, then God’s benevolence.

Faith in ourselves. Our capacity to reason and to choose a course of action. Our power to pursue that which we purpose.

Faith in others. Our confidence in their care. Our trust in their support.

Faith in our values, given that our behavior in trying times may belie what we profess; what we say we believe, hence who we say we are.

The definition of “a trying time”? Whatever you say it is. For one thing I have learned. It does little good to compare trying times as if to say one’s experience is more or less valid, real or true than that of another. I recall the words of a therapist at a time when I sadly confessed my lack of growth, mired in my “long agos” and my “yesterdays”, unable to work through the more painful aspects of my formative years. After all, I protested, my parents hadn’t beaten me, locked me in my room for long hours, or denied me food as punishments for misbehavior (as was the case of a childhood friend who lived next door). “Your experience,” she said, “is your experience. Rather than compare it with others and, therefore, negate it, explore it more deeply. Therein you may find healing.” How true I have discovered her counsel to have been.

It also is true that suffering can befall anyone and does befall everyone. No one can avoid it. (Unless one is able to accomplish the impossible – retreating from life, having no thoughts or feelings, nurturing no expectations, entering no relationships, making no choices.) Suffering is the great leveler. The grand equalizer.

We all suffer. Be it physical, social, psychological. Imprisonment in pain so severe and constant that times of relief are distant memories and hope for release seems vain. Encompassed about by circumstance so threatening, terrifying that the thought of rescue ne’er arises. Isolation from others. Alienation from one’s self. Fear of death.

We all suffer. Sometimes to an extent that every dimension of a fulfilling life is endangered. Our sense of health and well being. Freedom of movement. Opportunity for vital relationships with others and with one’s self. Rewarding labors. Enriching endeavors. Awareness of having time to anticipate and to await tomorrow’s promise.

We all suffer. As this is so, one of life’s determined and, at times, desperate longings is the search for meaning in suffering. Tormented by meaninglessness we risk madness.

Torment II, Constantin Brâncuși, 1907

Where can we look, where do we look to make sense of suffering?

Illustration: Torment II, Constantin Brâncuși, 1907

2 thoughts on “reflections on suffering, 1 of 5

  1. WOW, Thank you Paul!! You ask such a critical question!! Where DO we look to make sense of suffering? I think the answer depends on the situation. When things happen that are just plain old senseless, like the myriad of mass shootings over the past few years, I try to look to God for both solace and reasoning. As you know, many times I’ve also looked to you, when you were my rector to find some meaning in the Word, because in my opinion no one knows the Word and can explain it like you do.

    In other situations like illness and death, and other unfair things in life like discrimination and hate, I tend to internalize it and suffer alone at times. I seek out places that make me “feel better” like a beautiful place like Clevedale or the mountains, even if it doesn’t help me make “sense” of the issue itself.

    Suffering is a struggle and there have definitely been times when I thought I was close to madness especially during my many years of illness and suffering. But what I decided during the worst times was that I was going to “win” and just celebrate afterwards by having a “joy-filled” life to make up for the suffering and things I had missed in life kind of after the fact. I believe that it worked!!

    I know I’m going to learn a lot from this series of reflections because as you pointed out, we all suffer from time to time. So Thank you for doing this!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. And I thank you, Loretta, for your responses give greater/grander depth to my reflections. For, in truth, when I reflect, usually – as in this case with suffering – am wrestling to comprehend something. I have no given, sure answer. Rather it’s an existential “itch” that I must “scratch.” And, again, as you, as an individual with your history and memories, your experiences, etc., inevitably view life as you do, thus, differently than I, I find in your responses/reactions the proverbial “food for thought.” Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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