Gratitude Journal, In the Face of Unspeakable Suffering

It's hard not to puzzle over the problem of suffering as we watch the events in Japan unfolding.  It's hard not to wonder why such horrible things have to happen, what good could ever come of it.

About three years into my life of chronic pain, I was in a phase of really wanting an answer to the problem of suffering. I would never compare living with pain to the immense suffering of those in Japan right now -- after all, I always had food, water, medicine, and a roof over my head -- but when you are in pain all the time, you do sometimes begin to wonder what the purpose of it is.  You want there to be a purpose.

I did a lot of reading about the problem of suffering (you know, the usuals, Job, Prometheus, the Church Fathers).  None of it helped, although I did feel a kinship to Prometheus who never stopped speaking out about the injustice of his punishment. None of the theological arguments worked for me. For example, that suffering entered the world because of the Fall, that it was our share in the mystery of the Cross. I needed an answer that would fit for everyone on Earth, not just people who believed certain things.

Over time, I realized there was no answer to the problem of suffering that would satisfy me on an intellectual level. I came to my own uneasy peace with suffering by letting it teach me. And here's what it taught me (some of which I already knew, but now know in a much deeper way):

1. Be ever grateful -- See all the miracles.  Know that they are miracles. Say thank you when you turn the faucet on and water comes out, when you zip up your coat against a cold wind, when your lover walks through the door, when the furnace clicks on, when you can buy groceries and not think twice about it, when the sunset is so beautiful your heart skips a beat.

3. Live with compassion -- Compassion from the Latin for "to suffer together." Understand that others suffer, though you may not see it. Hold the suffering close in mind and heart. When you can, tell someone who's suffering that you are thinking of them, that you care.

2. Understand what's important -- It's far too simplistic to say, "Live every day as if it's your last."  We all know the chicken for tomorrow's dinner must be thawed today.  But didn't all our worries seem small once we heard the news of Japan (or of Haiti, or Katrina, or the Indian Ocean tsunami, or September 11th)? So, have your small worries; you're only human after all.  But don't put them in a 5x7 frame and hang them on your wall. Let them be part of a large landscape. Keep them perspective.

I no longer demand an answer to the problem of suffering. I see that the answer is a way of life, and I do my best to live it. This is my only comfort in the days following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and it's my only comfort when pain is getting the better of me.  But it's comfort enough.


drew said...

"So, have your small worries; you're only human after all. But don't put them in a 5x7 frame and hang them on your wall. Let them be part of a large landscape."

Yes! So well-said. In fact, I want to print, frame and hang this statement. :)

Thanks for the reminders, Molly.

Molly said...

Well, I forgot to say that there are some worries that really are Big. But for the small ones.... no frame. Thanks for reading.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Dang it, Drew already posted my comment. I am in fact, printing this out as we speak. It's such a great metaphor and lesson.

Sandy Longhorn said...

And, Thank you!!!

Molly said...

You're welcome, Sandy. Thanks for reading.