“We all live two lives. The one we learn from, and the one we live after that”.
Suffering is defined as “the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship. To be subjected to something bad or unpleasant. To be affected by an illness or ailment”. Whether it be any or all of those descriptions, every single one of us has our story. I know for damn sure I am no different. Not as much of a story as some, but I definitely have experienced my share of the worst this world has to offer. I have wondered often times in the past, why? Why must children starve in Africa? Why is there something as abominable as child sex trafficking? Why do people die in car wrecks in their 20’s? Why do children get cancer? Why must people suffer Alzheimer’s? Why? Well my friends, I don’t know if I have quite the answer you are looking for. However, I will give it my best shot. I will begin, by giving you a personal insight that is very difficult to discuss.
But first, I have one simple question to ask of all of you. The question is this.
Why are we under the assumption that life IS NOT supposed to contain suffering?
Truly, ponder that. Why do we delude ourselves that we are so special, to the point that we should not endure ANY trials or tribulations in our lives? Why do we think that we are immune from suffering, from despair, or from sadness? Who gave us the preconceived notion that we mustn’t go through any hard times, at all? What does that speak to? Is it a personal arrogance that we have culturally ingrained? Is it ignorance? What drives it? Think about that for a minute.
A few years ago, I was having a very difficult time with my life. I had taken a new job in a new area where I had no friends, and no real support system. I had gone through a divorce that was reminiscent of a nuclear arms test, and my only child was being kept from me and alienated against me. Suffice it to say, I felt very lonely and very solitary. I felt like not many people understood me, or cared, and there was little worth liking or enjoying about the world. I was truly at a point where I felt like all was lost.
I had begun listening to podcasts in order to occupy my down time and keep my mind off of my current situation. Many of you are familiar I am sure, with the Dan Bongino show. I began listening to Dan religiously because his style and content was something that spoke to me. He was spot on with the issue of Spygate, and he served up hot plates of knowledge with a cop’s delivery and a superior level of analysis. I became hooked. For that time, it almost felt like Dan was one of my only true friends.
I was in an especially bad state on a late May evening. My depression was very deep at the time, and I really questioned what good my continued presence on Earth would do. Distraught, and dejected, I turned on Dan believing his familiar voice and insights would bring me some level of comfort. About 30 minutes in to his show, he began to discuss an off topic related to conservative business owners and patrons that are targeted for their beliefs. It segued into his personal opinions and why persecution in the public square is NOT necessarily a bad thing. He continued on and cited a quote from the book “The Natural”, the Roy Hobbs story by Bernard Malamud. Dan’s words immediately afterward it me like a dump truck. I will never forget them as long as I live.
“The meaning of your life, is in the suffering you embrace. The suffering you embrace, and then overcome!”
I could not believe it. I could not believe that, what I had gone through in the past, and was going through at the present time, the answer was right in front of me the entire time! The meaning is not in the suffering, it is in the triumph!
I emailed Dan that night and got a very quick reply. We have chatted here and there since then, and I consider him to be a very good man. I told him how much his episode meant to meand why, what I was going through at the time, etc. I basically wanted to thank him for helping me see the world a different way. In his reply he stated, “Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Embrace the suffering. Use it to strengthen your soul. In Jesus Christ are all these lessons”.
Could it really be that simple? Could the secret of our existence be that simple?
Maybe. May I suggest to you, that the sentiments of one Dan Bongino were absolutely, 100% spot on? May I posit, that the meaning is not the suffering necessarily, but how you react to it! The world is awash with clichés about overcoming the odds and dealing with adversity. That is the case because it is true!
Take a look at history for example. History is littered with examples of people who overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to accomplish great feats. Walt Disney, Hellen Keller, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, even Oprah Winfrey suffered greatly. These names are just a few examples. If these people had stood back and allowed their struggle to be a crutch; and excuse not to go on, just think about how the world may have been altered. Would we all be in the same existence if those destined for great things had simply, quit?
From another worldview, one could even make the case that suffering in this life is required. That suffering is our opportunity to display our ability to reveal in what and whom our efforts have the most import. Suffering even of the worst kind can allow us to refocus our efforts on what is truly important in this life. Family, faith, duty, country. While our normal reactions as human beings are fear, anxiety, frustration, and so on, we can remember to fear not, that our Lord has overcome the world. Perhaps there are teaching moments in periods of suffering. I know that I have learned far more from adversity than I ever would have if everything was handed to me. I’ve reached the point that I have, through grit, determination, work ethic, faith, and literal blood sweat and tears. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
It is my belief that every life has a tipping point. I suppose one could describe my theory equated to the Apostle Paul’s “Road to Damascus” moment. While not completely literal, because I do not believe Jesus reveals himself to ANYONE in our current age, perhaps I mean figurative. A moment so transformative in someone’s life, that the entirety of their life goes a completely different direction. I would even suggest, as my mother would always call it, a fork in the road. I believe one gets to the fork in the road, due to adversity or suffering.
What happens then? Well, it is a pretty simple equation, is it not? You can only go one of two directions. As did the Apostle Paul, you can use it as an incredible transformative tool, or you can go to other way or no way. Regardless, it is all up to us.
Suffering is most difficult because we see it as an interruption on our route to lifelong bliss. We all go through our own “stages of grieving” type of process and often times will look for any quick-fix type of solution in order to subside it. I have found through research that the Eastern cultures take a far different approach to suffering than the rest of the world does. Some Tibetan Buddhists even see suffering as beneficial! Those main benefits being wisdom, resilience, compassion, and respect for your reality. Maybe we can all take a few cues from that. I don’t think I see a flaw in that perspective at all.
Nietzsche once said, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”. While now cliché, it is a very true statement. Suffering can be equated almost to a process of “working out” in a way. Suffering makes us feel, teaches us to endure hardships, to endure failures, to endure loss, and works out our inner core almost as if it were a muscle. At the end of that track, is wisdom and resilience. Helen Keller once wrote that, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through the experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved”. I don’t know what more I could add than that.
We all suffer. We all feel pain some times. We all try to avoid it. Suffering however, may I suggest to you, can teach us far more about our life’s meaning than experiencing joy EVER could? I know. I have lived it. And, the journey is not anywhere near over yet!
My friend Dan Bongino said as I stated earlier, embrace the suffering, use it to strengthen your soul. We Christians know, that this is displayed in the passion of Jesus Christ. That our Lord willingly endured unspeakable torture, and the Father gave his only begotten son, in order that mankind may be saved for glory. I think any hard times we go through don’t even come close to that comparison.
You see, we all must endure. We MUST suffer. Suffering is REQUIRED in life. Suffering makes us into who we are to become. I do not think it should be optional. Suffering is for our growth both mentally and spiritually. What we do with it is what matters. If we use it as the beautiful tool that it is, we can flourish on the other side of it. Having strengthened our own character and sense of determination. If we don’t, it is almost like cheating ourselves. The greatest thing about suffering? It is temporary. Another cliché. Tough times don’t last, tough people do.
Suffering is humbling. It gives us a greater sense of empathy. It teaches us self-awareness and awareness of our surroundings and fellow man. It teaches us how we can marry our concerns and our fears with that of another, in a way that we may care about another’s concerns as if they were our own. Suffering teaches us the fine line we must walk between hubris, and humility. It is the flip side of the life coin. Ying and Yang. Whatever you want to call it. There can never be true joy, without suffering and hardship. What is more, being humble and with vulnerability teaches us to recognize it in others. That we may be good stewards of our fellow man and woman. Suffering helps us recognize our potential, our limitations, and our humanity.
The first of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths is the truth of suffering—a truth we can either reject or accept as an inevitable part of being human. And when we learn to accept, even embrace, difficult experiences, our suffering becomes a tool, an instrument, for growth. Growth my friends, is what the entire journey is all about.
You see, as was said earlier, the meaning of our lives is in the suffering we embrace and OVERCOME! What we overcome eventually makes us the people that we always wanted to and always believed we would be. It makes us what we always wanted for ourselves, if we will allow it. The earlier quote from Malamud said we live two lives. The one we learn from, and the one we live after that. It is all about getting to your second life. I talked to a good friend a couple days ago about taking a look at my wife’s motorcycle for a balance issue and he was readily willing to help. I told him thank you and that he was a good dude. His reply to me was, “I guess I am trying to make up for all the times I wasn’t”. Sound wisdom in that. Someone definitely is on the right track. It is high time a lot of us make a concerted effort to join him. Including me.
Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is there poverty and starvation in the world? Why are there never ending wars? I don’t know. I do not have the grand design. That is way above my pay grade. I do strongly believe however that we must suffer as humans. That suffering should be used as a tool in our lives, not a jail sentence.
I will leave you with an excerpt of my favorite Wordsworth poem. May it bring you the comfort it always brings me.
“Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.
And O, ye Fountains, Meadows, Hills, and Groves,
Forebode not any severing of our loves!
Yet in my heart of hearts I feel your might;
I only have relinquished one delight
To live beneath your more habitual sway;
I love the brooks which down their channels fret
Even more than when I tripped lightly as they;
The innocent brightness of a new-born day
Is lovely yet;
The clouds that gather round the setting sun
Do take a sober coloring from an eye
That hath kept watch o’er man’s mortality;
Another race hath been, and other palms are won.
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.”