Monday, September 05, 2011

Suffer in Silence or Wail at the Wall?

I recently read something that made me stop and think about suffering. Should we suffer in silence? Expect others to suffer in silence? Is it okay to wail at the wall? Is suffering truly optional? 

I pondered this question from my spiritual background which is Christian. However, I believe all religions carry a story that speaks to their believers about ultimate sacrifice and suffering. I welcome hearing and learning those stories. They enrich me. If you have a faith story that is different from mine, please do share it with me today.

Now back to my faith story. Biblically, Jesus asked God to take the weight of his known future suffering from him, then he said, "Not my will, but yours." He would suffer for God. For us. So He had to accept the suffering. Not by his will, but by God's. 

Now I am not a theology student. I know there are way more complicated layers to this whole God incarnate who came to earth to be human and suffer and die for us. God did ultimately choose to suffer for humanity. But there is another lesson here. That lesson of struggling with the pain one knows will come with the suffering. Crying out. Wailing. Praying for the burden to be lifted. 

This conclusion got me to thinking even more about what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus prayed for the strength to get through this time. According to the scripture, he sweated literal blood that night. In showing us His struggle, I was taught a valuable lesson. I was taught that it's okay to cry, to fight the pain, to yell, to beg for another way, to express my fear, to express my doubts, to express my sorrow. 

Denying the struggle, denying the fear, denying the future suffering is not the same as being unwilling to suffer with grace, dignity, and strength. So when someone suffers, what am I supposed to do? What is the lesson I have learned from my personal spiritual story?

I have learned that when someone suffers, when they first are filled with fear, anger, frustration, doubt, suspicion, pain that I need to acknowledge those emotions. I need to do more than sympathize, I need to reach out and say it's okay to feel all the emotions and express them. It's okay to be sad, mad, angry, hurt. 

It is my duty to listen. Just listen. If in my listening my tears join the chorus, so be it. Or maybe my shared anger. I don't have to do or say anything other than mirror that person's emotional story and recognize the cloud creating a dark shadow over that person's life.

The capacity to give one's attention to a sufferer is a very rare and difficult thing; it is almost a miracle; it is a miracle. -- Simone Weil

To give one's attention is a rare and difficult thing. Wait before the words of comfort appear on your tongue. Wait to speak. Give attention. Full attention. It's not easy. Can't say I always succeed. But I try. I really try.

Then, after I've given full attention to the sufferer, only then can I say, "Look away from the shadow casting pain and suffering in your life. Look up to the sky and see that cloud. Look behind it. There is a silver lining. There is a blessing tucked in the shadows of the cloud."

Now we can smile, we can look for the bright spot, and we can see the rainbow together. Now the suffering is lessoned by the hope, the joy, the memories, the comforting deeds and words we share. Then we suffer with grace, dignity and strength. Then we are able to show that we are made better by the pain that is shaping our lives. 

It is highly significant, and indeed almost a rule, that moral courage has its source in identification through one's own sensitivity with the suffering of one's fellow human beings. --Rollo May


Suzanne Johnson said...

Such a beautiful post. I agree--it's not the wailing at the wall that's wrong. It's natural. It's healthy. The key is acceptance that, even though it hurts, sometimes the suffering is a necessary part of our journey.

Christine said...

Thanks Suzanne. I agree. Suffering is part of the journey. Denying it is unhealthy.


RedPeril said...

Thank you for sharing your spiritual perspective on the matter. I think faith, when it's allowed to play an active role in one's life, can have a huge impact on how we decide to see and weather suffering.

Coming from a medical background, I sometimes forget the refining end-result of suffering. Health care so often centers around pain control/relief/alleviation...any form of suffering can be seen as the enemy. (Chronic suffering can really wear a person down.) But I've also seen the growth and beauty that often show up when people work through it... the sort that might never have been achieved any other way.

~Angela Blount

Christine said...

Hi Angela: thanks for your medical professional perspective! You're so right. So often we are focused on alleviating or controlling suffering, but there are some instances where that is not possible. At best we can control it. I think the important thing is to allow the patient to own their pain, acknowledge it, then work together to resolve it. And suffering can be emotional, too.

I just think it becomes very easy in these days of penny philosophy and 140 character sound bites to trivialize suffering with trite platitudes.

Lexi said...

Lovely post, Christine, and much food for thought.

Christine said...

Thanks Lexi. I appreciate you coming by and commenting. I've been thinking about this a lot. I just wish some people would pause before they offered quick words of "feel better it could be worse" bits of advice.


Louisa Cornell said...

Lovely post, Christine, and definitely applicable to writers. I do believe it is okay to get mad, cry, rage and mourn some of the things that happen to us as writers, both published and unpublished. The key is to support each other through it and then get back at it again. I even give myself a set amount of time to react to the tough and negative things and then I make myself move on.

Christine said...

HI Louisa: So true. It's important to give yourself time to honor how you feel, to honor how others feel, then look for a way to be happy again.