Journey to Faith

Journey to Faith
Follow your own path

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Suffering: How to Get Thru the Tough Times

Nobody likes to suffer. But guess what? Suffering is part and parcel of life. Suffering exists in many forms such as physical, mental, or emotional suffering. Somethings come on us from outside sources and some suffering we bring on ourselves through faulty beliefs and poor choices. People all over the world are suffering in one form or another and yes, some people suffer more than others. As we all belong to the human family, I believe we are called to alleviate suffering or at least to comfort those who are in pain. So to that end, I am writing this post. It is not an easy topic to write on, but it is important and touches each of us deeply. It was a visit to the Baltimore Book Festival coupled with the recent shootings in Oregon that got me to thinking about this.

A few weeks ago, I was at the Baltimore Book Festival and since my tastes tend towards things spiritual, I stopped at the Christian Science booth. The two women explained how they believe in the power of prayer to heal ourselves and others. All well and good. But when I googled the religion, it said this under their "What we believe" tab : "We believe it is not God's will for people to be sick, suffer, or die." Really? What about Job? What about Paul and Peter? What about the countless migrants immigrating from Syria? What about the single parents of society or those with handicapped children? What about all those with AIDS?

Many belief systems and self-help gurus claim to be able to help their followers transcend or avoid suffering. According to self-help guru, Tony Robbins, most people try their best to avoid suffering and seek pleasure. As much as we seek pleasure, can anyone really say for certain they can avoid suffering? How many wealthy and successful people are struck with disease or a tragedy? Wealth is not a guarantee against suffering. Nor is a life spent pursuing enlightenment. Look at Buddha. Did he not suffer? I have several Buddhist friends and they don't seem to be the happiest bunch either. How many monks have taken ill or ended up destitute? Perhaps a different perspective may be helpful.

Could it be that suffering is, in fact, good for us? Now I know this runs contrary to popular opinion. As the verse in James says "Count it all pure joy when you go through many trials for they produce character." Trials exist for a purpose. Trials help us grow and develop character, even the ones we don't understand. Job didn't understand why he had to endure so many trials. His wife told him to "Curse God and die," she was so disgusted and hopeless. But in the end, Job did learn something about God, himself, and his friends. Isn't that what trials are all about? Suffering exists to teach us about ourselves, others, and God and this is where Faith comes in.

But what if we don't have Faith. Many people are leaving the churches today. Some don't even give a thought to a spiritual life. I often wonder how they survive the inevitable trials of life. If we have no faith or belief in the infinite goodness of God, it is easy to be overcome by suffering. When people don't take the time to look deeper to search for a reason for their suffering, they lose hope and eventually take desperate measures such as killing themselves or other people. This is why people often turn to alcohol, drugs, or excess in some area of life to comfort them and take their minds off their troubles. What these people don't realize is until they take the time to seek an answer, their troubles are not going to go away. Troubles are lessons in disguise. Life is a school, and the lessons we learn move us to the next grade. If we don't learn the lesson we'll keep repeating the grade. Let me give you a personal example.

Relationships have always been important to me. I have a tendency to want to make relationships work out. I put forth so much effort in my marriage to make the relationship work until I heard my then estranged husband utter these words: "Well, I'm not the first to be divorced, and I won't be the last." It was then I realized he had stopped trying. The pattern continued with the boyfriends who came into my life. I was always the one taking responsibility. The most hurtful situation was with my oldest son. I tried so hard so many times to make these relationships work but they all failed miserably. What was the lesson in all of these relationships that I failed to learn?

The lesson was this. It takes two to make a relationship work and I needed to respect myself enough to say "Enough is enough". If the other person wasn't respecting me, I needed to set my boundaries and keep them at arm's length: husband, boyfriend, or son. The characters changed but the scenario remained the same. The pain kept getting worse. It was my youngest son who pointed this out to me and then I was able to tie all the pieces together. Now that I think about it, perhaps this all goes back to the fact that I never had a relationship with my alcoholic father. I tried many approaches then as well - excelling in school, music, and many other areas. None of these worked because my father was an alcoholic and he was incapable of having a relationship with me. He had a relationship with the bottle and that was all that mattered to him.

I kept searching and asking God and others "Why?" Now I have peace. Now I understand the lesson, but it has taken years and several buckets of tears. Eventually the answer comes.
We don't always understand why God allows suffering at the time, because our minds are human in capacity and our awareness is often clouded. God's thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and His ways are higher than our ways (Is 55:8-9). This means God always has a purpose and a plan, even if it is not clear to us. God uses circumstances to mold us, to grow us up and to teach us to take better care of ourselves. Yes, they can be painful and difficult but in the same way a parent disciplines a child for his or her own good, so God disciplines his children (Heb 12:4-7).

We may not see what the outcome of our situations will be. This is what Faith is all about. Faith is the positive belief of things not yet seen. The Bible says that Faith is what pleases God (Heb 11:6). It shows we trust Him, even when we cannot see the path in front of us. Even when our eyes are filled with tears, and the days seem as dark as night, Faith is the power we each have to see us through. Faith is what carries us and keeps us. Suffering is difficult, no doubt, but when we can assign meaning to it, it loses some of its sting. Faith is the muscle we have to push through and to persevere.

What are you facing today? Have you lost a loved one? A relationship has failed? Financial woes? Health issues? Trust me, there are lessons in each of these circumstances. When we slow down enough to seek answers, they will come. It is promised (give verse about wisdom). I don't expect you to share your personal story but if you'd like, I encourage you to, because it is healing. Feel free to do so in the comments below.

Until next time, enter your email in the box provided and I'll send you my free e-book "7 Steps to Finding Your Spiritual Path". It's a generic guide, not necessarily for Christian paths as we are all on a journey and I believe it will be helpful to anyone who is seeking spiritual insight and knowledge. I would love to hear your comments on this post. The experts advise talking about the raw stuff of life and this was certainly raw. I hope this has given you a different and encouraging perspective on the trials you are going through.

May your load be lightened and keep looking up!