Q. I work in a hospital and see many people suffering. I also have seen my parents and some of their friends going through pain and suffering. I’m surprised at how well some people handle tragic illness. I’ve had a pretty easy life and wonder how people manage such pain. I’m not sure I could handle it. What helps people go through suffering with grace?
A. Life is full of suffering of varying kinds and degrees. Physical suffering is only one form of suffering. The traumas of abuse, flashbacks from war, mental anguish of any kind can be just as painful as a serious illness. The pain of loss through divorce or death also involves much emotional suffering. We all experience frustrations in our relationships, on our jobs and in circumstances almost on a daily basis. Though our daily “pains” are usually minor, the pain is very real. We all suffer.
We learn to handle suffering only as it’s forced upon us. Most of us struggle against suffering. We struggle against the reality of a serious illness and we should put up a fight. Many experience despair, fear and depression when physical illness strikes. We are angered and even repulsed by incapacitating illness. These are normal and natural reactions. Accepting suffering and learning from suffering come only with some struggle. Some of us are defeated by suffering. Some of us grow from suffering. What is the difference? Our attitude is all important.
Those who grow from suffering expect some pain in life. They know life is difficult. They don’t expect a life of comfort and security. They view life as a time of training and preparation. Our culture takes quite a different view. It leads us to expect or even demand happiness and comfort. As a result we experience much “pain” and “suffering” when the slightest disruption to our own plans occurs.
Those who grow from suffering count their blessings. They view their life as half full of joy - not half empty, as others look at it. They are grateful for the joys in their lives. They consider everything in their life as a gift from God - life, relationships, food, shelter, the beauty of nature. Grateful people are happy even in the midst of suffering.
Those who grow through suffering hang onto their faith in God and his plan for them in spite of hardship or pain. They use their pain as a call to prayer. They turn to God for comfort, even in the midst of despair. The Psalms help them express their anguish as well as support their faith that God is still with them.
People who grow from suffering consider pain a gift. They learn many lessons from this gift. They learn to be dependent on God, and on family and friends. They learn we are all interdependent. They learn that things and money don’t offer security or happiness. They learn humility. They learn they aren’t the center of the universe. They learn the difference between necessities and luxuries. They learn patience. They learn empathy for others in need.
To learn more about the problem of pain, why God allows suffering and how to cope with pain read No Pain, No Gain by John R. Wimmer, The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis and Where Is God When It Hurts by Philip Yancy.
“We rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope.” Romans 5: 3-4 NKJV