Savor the Pain

Paul was the penultimate masochist.  His writings are laden with calls to suffer as Christ suffered.  Perhaps in a particularly bleak bout with acedia, Paul even goes as far as to say that “to live is Christ, but to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).  Numerous other verses make it seem as though we are lesser Christians if we do not endure some form of suffering in our lives.  I doubt Paul was ever accused of being the life of the party.

I’m not a fan of suffering.  I don’t know of anyone who is sane that does either.  We try to avoid it at all costs, and for good reason – it royally sucks.  As much as we loath the idea of having to endure an unbearable experience, we all share the same reality that at least some bitterness in life is inevitable.  None of us is exempt from heartbreak and loss.  Such adversity is merely a part of our membership dues in the club we call the human race.

Any contemplative will tell you that suffering is a choice.  I agree.  Though we are subjected to tribulations, allowing them to break us is a decision that only we can make.  Nobody can make us despair.  It takes our cognizant intentional surrender to the situation and/or the persecutor to classify us as defeated.  Some choose this path and embrace the resulting acrimony and complacent indolence that is reserved only for those who have given up.

But there is something else about suffering beyond the mere survival of hardship: it’s one hell of a teacher.  Each experience – both bitter and sweet – forms us into the people we are today.  How these incidents form us is entirely up to us.  They may teach us that life is cruel and meaningless and that perpetual ennui is the true flavor of life.  Or they may teach us that we can, in fact, overcome even the worst of trials and that we are being formatively prepared for a brighter future.

I cannot honestly say that I have suffered in life.  Sure, I have had hardships and trying circumstances that took an emotional toll in their courses, but nothing that seemed insurmountable.  Or maybe the situation did seem hopeless at the time, but I have difficulty recalling that feeling because I’m now on the other side of the tunnel.  What I do know, though, is that each and every experience that I have had in life has prepared me for who and where I am now. 

“And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us”  (Romans 5:3-5).  Yeah, Paul.  Right on.

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