Thursday, June 5, 2008

Measuring Suffering

Today I was talking to God about a situation I don't like. Here are the facts:
1) I have very low energy 99% of the time.
2) I can't do much
3) I can't plan much because I probably won't be able to do it when it comes time to follow through on my plans.

If you have any imagination you can understand how frustrating this is, not just for me but for my family and anyone else who might be counting on me. Today I had to turn down another opportunity that I really wanted to accept, and it broke my heart. That may sound dramatic, but it was really the straw that broke the camel's back. I didn't fall into a puddle of tears, but I did go tell God what I thought about it.

I told Him that I wanted to be where He wanted me to be even if it meant in weakness and uncertainty. I told Him that I didn't like it, I really don't like it, but I want what He wants. Then He started talking to me about comparing suffering.

This is not the first situation that I have been in that I didn't like. But, not liking something sounds so petty, even selfish. I kept telling myself that it's really not that bad, that I should be grateful, that I should quit feeling sorry for myself. All of this is true, but it's only half of the story. The other half of the story is that my not liking it isn't sin, in fact what I'm going through is suffering.

"Suffering is having something you don't want,
or wanting something you don't have."
~Elizabeth Elliot

Can this be true? Suffering must be more complex. Surely, true suffering is more noble.

We are only human. When we stub our toe we call it pain. When a body is racked with cancer we call it pain. Greater pain and lesser pain we all agree, but pain none the less.

Another interesting fact about pain and suffering: they can only be measured by yourself in yourself. Only you can say that one pain is greater than another for you. No one else has felt what you feel. No one else can know like you do.

We always act as though it can be measured and compared. We measure our pain and suffering by one another. "My not having energy is not as great a suffering as your losing someone you love." True, no doubt. But I was going the next step. "My not having energy is not suffering because your suffering is worse."

Even as I write this it seems to make sense, but I know it is not true. We would not use this logic in any other area. It becomes preposterous.

"My feet aren't even really feet because yours are bigger." or, "Your black paper isn't really black because I have a black wall."
My black paper isn't as big as your black wall, but big or small, black remains black.

Strange as it may seem, when God gave me freedom to call my little problems suffering, my self-pity pretty much left. I am suffering. It is uncomfortable. I don't like it. I know it is for a purpose. I know it brings me closer to God. I know that God is in it. I do have joy.

"But when they measure themselves by one another
and compare themselves with one another,
they are without understanding."
~ II Corinthians 10:12 ESV