I have been having an interesting conversation with another blogger on what is suffering and whether or not it is real. He made the point that where love exists, suffering cannot. I love it when someone says something that spurs me to look deeper into an idea!
We have all suffered one time or another. I once had a teacher in junior high who told the class that none of us could have ever suffered because we were too young. What nonsense! Suffering is relevant. Even a new born suffers when he feels hunger pains. Eventually, the baby grows and learns that sustenance is always provided so he doesn’t suffer and cries as much. I have read from several spiritual authors that we don’t have to suffer. I see that to a large degree but not to an absolute one. We certainly suffer more than we need to. For instance, when we allow an experience to affect us and we don’t process and release it but instead allow it to be embedded in our psyche. The next time someone makes a comment or we have a similar experience, we feel that pain more acutely than we would if we had simply allowed the negative emotion of the early experience to just past through us. So, when we allow our feelings to feel hurt, we suffer. When we allow ourselves to think, “That’s not fair!” or “Life’s not fair!” we suffer. That sort of suffering is through our psyche (or biblical soul or mind). In fact, we can suffer less if we observe the experience and work with it rather than say to ourselves that something is not fair. The moment we allow ourselves to think that life is not fair, we create war within us and war is suffering.
We also suffer through our body such as when we are sick or feel pain. We can suffer less, if we just ride the pain rather than fight against it. The most successful childbirth experience happens when we allow ourselves to experience the pain and work with it rather than fight it. If we try to fight against the pain, it actually becomes more painful. However, some bodily pain and illness cannot be helped. You can be the most spiritual person on earth but if your arm has been sawed off through some freak accident, you are going to suffer if you are a human being.
So I have now given examples of suffering through our psych and through our body, but can we also suffer through our spirit? Is there a spiritual side to suffering?
When I looked at the different ways we suffer, I thought of my children. If one of them suffers, I feel I suffer right along with them. I hate seeing them in pain! I empathize with them and physically feel pressure and heat in my heart. I feel sad for them and feel my ‘mother-heart’ expanding. I’m sure the same holds true with carers and missionaries. That sort of suffering spurs us to action. When Jesus was told that Lazarus was dead, he wept and then it spurred him to action and he brought Lazarus back to life. (John 11) If God incarnate wept then surely empathy is a good thing. Is empathy suffering? I think yes. I think there are different degrees to empathy and that sometimes we truly suffer when we empathize. Sometimes we feel pain. I suppose we can allow ourselves not to feel empathy so strongly but where would that get us? Perhaps, that acute empathy can be called Godly suffering or spiritual suffering. There has been moments in my life where I have felt the sense of God weeping through me. I felt His sadness. However, the sadness of God is beautiful because it is born out of love. When we empathize, isn’t our empathy born out of love?
The interesting thing about empathy the way I see it is that though we suffer, our love expands and it feels like there is some joy in the suffering. While the person we are empathizing with is suffering, so do we. The joy of experiencing love doesn’t dilute our suffering, it transcends it. We still suffer, we still empathize but it is a spiritual experience.
If you would like to check out Michael’s blog that inspired this post then click here. Michael has some very thoughtful and interesting posts.