On Sunday, I shared with the congregation about some pain I had experienced in my life, in particular the severe physical pain after a bad car accident, the ensuing physical therapy, and continuing pain that comes from soft tissue and joint damage from the accident. I also shared two questions asked by my Spiritual Director, with whom I participate in monthly Spiritual Direction sessions. She asked me “Why do you choose to suffer?” “Would you like to no longer choose to suffer?”
I don’t remember the circumstances of the conversation or what the particular pain was that my Spiritual Director was addressing. I don’t remember if we were talking about physical or emotional pain. Yet, I will never forget those two questions. I don’t know why I was choosing to suffer, but it occurred to me that some (not all) suffering is a choice. I decided to pay attention during the following weeks, just to notice when and where pain showed up. I realized that I was choosing to suffer both physically and emotionally on a regular basis! I caught myself saying things to myself like: “This pain is manageable; it is not near as bad as what other people are going through.” “I don’t have time to do my stretching routine today; I can put up with a little soreness.” “I have so much to do; I have to pile on extra things and plow through it (joylessly) until it all gets done.”
I had decided to pay attention with a spirit of curiosity, really just to see what was happening in my mind and on my heart. I found that I was not being very compassionate to myself fairly regularly. I also realized that when I am not being compassionate toward myself, I am not being as compassionate to others and the world around me. I answered the second question: “Yes, I would like to no longer choose to suffer.” In fact, I said something like, “I will be committed to no longer choose to suffer.”
Somewhere along the line, I got the message that suffering was a noble endeavor. I remember preachers and teachers in my younger years extolling the virtuous Job for being such a “good sufferer.” I also remember them pointing to the words of Jesus: “If any wish to follow me, let them take up their cross daily.” The message that got into my head is that suffering is a good thing.
After reading Job and the words of Jesus, however, I don’t see that message. Nowhere do either say that suffering is good and that we should seek it. There is, of course, suffering that just happens to us outside of our control, as well as the suffering we choose for a higher cause. What I see in the stories of both of these remarkable men is that God is always with us and for us, even when we do suffer.
I invite you to take a look at the pain in your life and ask yourself if any of it is what you choose. I invite you to then ask the same questions that I was asked: “Why do you choose to suffer?” and “Would you like to no longer choose to suffer?”
I wish you a pain-free and joyful week…and hope to see you on Sunday as we look at “The Practice of Being Present to God.”
I also hope to see you at my artist’s reception on Saturday in San Mateo. I invite you to come and bring friends who might enjoy my watercolors of tropical florals and Asian themes.
Pastor Alan Akana