Monday, March 11, 2013

Perspectives on Suffering.

When I was working through the series on guilt, pertinent blog posts appeared in my feed, and I passed them on in my blog.

When I started thinking about suffering (November!)  I started looking for blog posts on suffering, thinking I'd have more to share this time around.  Not until this week have I been given any additional perspective in this way. 

So here are some gleanings from my reading this week:

 From The Contemplative Cottage, an extended quote from Christ the Tiger by Thomas Howard.

John Piper speaks about preparing for (inevitable) suffering.

Tony Reinke reflects on what John Newton, author of Amazing Grace, wrote to his young step-daughter about the inevitable hazards of life.

Lovely Holly Gerth wrote about not letting the fear of getting hurt dominate your decisions.

I follow the {in}courage bloom book club, and one day this week the vlog was about Prayer of the Heart, Meditative Prayer, and Contemplative Prayer. 

Perhaps this kind of praying happens most naturally when you are flat on your back or flat on your face.

The way that intense suffering humbles and empties a person may prepare her for deep communion with her God.

Saturday, March 9, 2013


Angela Nazworth published an article about "When You're Expected to 'Pull It Together'" on {in}courage which I thought was helpful in considering suffering.

My response to her article is asking myself some questions.  Am I comfortable with letting other people express their grief, both privately and publicly if necessary?  Am I comfortable with grieving through my own griefs?  Am I ashamed when my griefs overflow outside of my privacy?  Can I trust God to let appropriate expressions of grief be good?


"Suppressing your hurts is like not tending to a bullet wound. Eventually you will bleed out. Don't numb pain, express it."  Lecrae

Friday, March 8, 2013


He has suffered horrific childhood abuse of every kind.  In one of our first conversations, he said that he wanted to tell me something really funny, and he laughed while he told me a first-hand story of being exploited. 

I felt a little ill.

His survival skills were phenomenal, but his ability to move into adult life with healthy relationships had been seriously crippled. 

Over the course of nearly a dozen years I have had the privilege of watching this youth grow into manhood.  He has struggled to heal and be free of the damage of the past.

He joined the Marines and served in Iraq.  He married and had children.  He has nurtured his children.  He graduated from college and entered graduate school.

He has struggled philosophically, since he is in truth a philosopher.  What is truth?  Does anything really exist?  He came to the point where he knew confidently that at least one thing really existed: love.  He knew that he loved his son.  His daughter.  His wife.  And from there he began to realize that there is a kind of truth that cannot be quantified, but which exists.

In the first part of December he was given the gift of faith in God, in Jesus. At the same time, he was given healing for his heart and soul. 

A few weeks later we were talking on the phone, and he gave me two pieces of news.  He has cancer. And he and his wife are expecting their third child.

Grief and joy mingled.  Healing followed by fresh suffering.  Fresh grief.  Fresh pain.  And fresh hope.

He told me once that after his surgery, he had a couple days where he was tempted to think angrily, "Haven't I suffered enough?"  But his foundational understanding is that suffering is good. . .or results in good.  There are good reasons for suffering.

Much of this is beyond my ability to comprehend.  But I feel privileged to observe and love this amazing manchild.  I love to see him making such tremendous effort and succeeding.

I am inspired by his courage.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Is Suffering Evil?

We've known Daniel almost his whole life.  He is now in his early 30's, and has long rejected God.  Not without reason.  He's seen some fairly awful things said and done in God's name.

In recent correspondence with my husband, Daniel revealed that though he is an atheist, he believes in absolute truth.  Mark asked him what he believes is absolute truth, and Daniel responded that he believes that pleasure is good, and suffering/pain is evil.

I thought of sadism.  And masochism.  In these, both pain and pleasure are probably evil.

I thought of the fitness motto: no pain, no gain.  A little pain may bring long-term benefit--or healthy pleasure.

I thought of life-saving surgeries.

How about labor and delivery?

These are all examples of physical suffering, but I wonder if the same concepts apply to mental or spiritual suffering?   Are there mental pleasures that are destructive to oneself or others?  Are there painful disciplines that bring long term benefits?  Are there piercing losses that bring long-term mental or spiritual health?  Can pain and suffering birth new spiritual and mental life?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


This list was also gleaned from conversations with friends:

*people in close relationships
*covetousness/discontent ("We think we should have something we don't")
*bad choices

What causes you pain?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

suffering--word associations

The council of friends is scattered right now.  One is snow-birding in California, and another has had a number of business related trips. 

However, I talked with each, and also number of other friends who I know have experienced significant suffering.  Some of the comments I will give individual posts, but from different conversations, I collect the following word associations for suffering:


From, I found "suffering" defined as "pain, agony".  Synonyms listed were: adversity, affliction, anguish, difficulty, discomfort, distress, dolor, hardship, martyrdom, misery, misfortune, ordeal, passion, torment, torture.

Wikipedia defined "suffering" broadly as "an experience of unpleasantness and aversion associated with the perception of harm or threat of harm in an individual."  The article further explained that suffering can be subdivided into physical suffering, mental suffering, emotional suffering, psychological suffering, and even spiritual suffering.  In addition: 
[Suffering] may come in all degrees of intensity, from mild to intolerable. Factors of duration and frequency of occurrence usually compound that of intensity. Attitudes toward suffering may vary widely, in the sufferer or other people, according to how much it is regarded as avoidable or unavoidable, useful or useless, deserved or undeserved.

So a paper cut causes a certain level of suffering, and betrayal by a friend causes a different level of suffering.  But the intensity of pain felt by each will differ (stating the obvious there).

What is the worst thing you have ever suffered?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Introduction to Suffering

When my council of friends was concluding our reflection on guilt--and in the journey some significant deliverance from it--Lisa from Ireland emailed me and asked if maybe after the new year we could explore the concept of suffering in the same way.   I agreed and starting meditating on suffering.

Toward the end of December a significant chain of events led to major changes in my life.  In the culture in which I live, there is a lot of violence.  Someone new to the area commented that the judge is too free with handing out restraining orders. I disagree.  Having conversed with quite  a few of the people who have asked for restraining orders as well as those who have had restraining orders against them, I would observe that they seem to have been served fairly. 

Avoiding the back story (I still can't talk of it easily), I will say that a woman who has hatred for me went from stonily glaring at me every time she saw me to unrestrained public verbal attacks, not only on me but also on other of my family members.  These attacks have happened both at church and at the only grocery store (currently) in town. My understanding is that we have reason to get a restraining order.  However, we don't feel free to take her to court, nor to make any more trouble in her life than she is already making for herself.  Nevertheless, we still feel a need to avoid needlessly placing ourselves in danger. 

This has led to significant lifestyle changes.  It  has also led to a spiritual struggle with anger and fear.  Summarizing hours and days of internal battle, I can truthfully say that the Lord has given us the ability to love her and care about her well-being.  He has also given us the ability to be wise and avoid unnecessary provocation.  All this is very humbling.  Humiliating even.

So I didn't write about suffering when the new year started.

Because I was so shattered.

Then I was going to make it the subject of thought during Lent.  Well, Lent is well underway, and nothing has been written.

This morning I have worked out and and listened to podcasts and watched vlogs and started dinner.  I folded laundry and put it away.

And there is no avoiding it any longer.

What is suffering?  Why do we suffer? What good is it?  or is it evil?  How can we suffer well?  How can we suffer badly?  What is the worst kind of suffering?