The End of Suffering

When I originally was going to write about suffering I had composed a five page document about all the major trials in my life. It was long, tedious and embarrassing. Then I realized that my story about my suffering actually causes more suffering than it alleviates. This was for two reasons: it was boring to read and it focused on negative things. So, I decided to take a different route on this post and put a much-needed positive spin on things. While it’s true that I have suffered a lot in my life, great things came out of it. Also focusing on the sad things in my life is not productive or healthy. It felt good to summarize and enumerate my suffering but I will not subject anyone to it by publishing it online.

In “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle, he describes suffering as coming about when we choose to think negatively about our circumstances. It also happens when you focus too much on the past, worry about the future, and don’t allow yourself to enjoy the present. I reviewed his book in another article.

I feel like one of the major benefits of having suffering in my life is that it gave me a very active pain body which I couldn’t stand carrying anymore so I sought to change the way I looked at things. Another huge benefit of suffering is that it gave me experiences that I can write about, learn from, and teach from. Without all the bad things that have happened to me my testimony would be pretty bland and not very compelling. Life on Earth is short and if you don’t enjoy it, what is the point? So for the past year I’ve decided my biggest goal and my running intention is to be happy. It’s that simple.

When I let my life flow and myself be myself, I am happy. Some might accuse me of being a hedonist but I don’t see it that way. I think of myself as what John Piper calls a “Christian hedonist.” It makes me happy when God is happy so naturally, I obey Him. It causes me suffering to struggle and fight with God in order to satisfy my fleshly cravings so I don’t. I do what makes me happy. This website is an example of that. I could choose to see it as a burden but I think of it as a privilege. I love to write. It allows me to get many confusing thoughts out of my mind and reframe and organize them with my proverbial pen (I realize there is no writing utensils used online but it sounds better than keyboard).

When your goal is to be happy you don’t let yourself suffer. You don’t engage in negative thinking because it causes suffering. You don’t beat yourself up when you fail because your goal is not to be some perfect being but to be happy. Criticizing yourself makes you sad. It’s also good to think positive about yourself and other people because then you find yourself treating people better and acting how God would have you act.

I seriously dislike it when people say things like “I want to” or “I’m trying to” please God. Why? Because it doesn’t take effort and it’s not even a struggle to be a Christian. Just do the right thing and make God and yourself happy at the same time. The reason people say “Lord, I want to be more Christlike,” is because in the wanting to be something you’ve already lost the battle. If you really wanted to be Christlike you would be – end of story. It puts off being a Christian in the now and is actually counterproductive. Christ is not hard to emulate. He even says “His yoke is easy and His burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). When he was hungry he ate, he came eating and drinking and people called Him a winebibber (wino) and friend of sinners (Matthew 11:19). People won’t like you, they will judge you, criticize you and hurt you no matter what you do. So make it your aim not to be pleasing to people but to be pleasing to God. Christ wasn’t a prude but he was definitely righteous. He didn’t judge people based on their past or future but rather opened His heart and saw them with presence. He gave people room to be themselves and to be happy.

Now I’m not saying that life is always easy or happy – you have no control over some circumstances in life. What you do have control over is how you think about those circumstances. All the suffering and all the joy lie in your mind. You don’t have to seek outside pleasure or fixes because the kingdom of heaven is within you. Christ gives us peace immutable. If you have peace you can’t easily be unhappy. Why set your thoughts on things that encourage suffering? Why relive your story of being abused or whatever is your pain source again and again when it’s clearly only affecting you in the present because it’s all you let yourself think about? It’s true that many people have very sad backstories but it can only affect your behavior because you focus on it. You are capable of being happy if you just stop reliving your past in your thoughts and eventually actions. It’s pretty short-sighted to only see and relive the misery in your life. Why not remember the good people did to you? If you honestly can’t thank a single person for your miserable experiences you can at least thank God for what you learned from them.

Jesus says to rejoice in our suffering because it only makes us stronger and it’s indicative that we are God’s children because God’s people aren’t of the world and the world doesn’t understand and often persecutes us. He’s basically saying to be positive about your negative experiences. You only suffer needlessly when you rehearse them. Complaining about things whether in your mind or aloud only ages you. Let it go.

Ask for Help

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you,” (James 1:5 NIV).

Sometimes I think it’s easier to complain about a problem than it is to actually take positive steps to fix the problem. I think it has something to do with ego inflation. Our ego wants constantly to get bigger so it seems like complaining about something will relieve some of our anxiety. Complaining is one way to make your ego or shadow side bigger. It’s also one way to diminish God’s presence in your life. God wants to be in control of your needs. He wants to fulfill our potential and increase His glory.

Complaining makes our spirit old. It deteriorates our body and life force. Proverbs 14:30 says, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones,” (NIV). I’d like to say that complaining rots the bones, too. It also demoralizes the person who engages in it and even demoralizes those who listen.

I had a dream once that showed me it’s process. I was talking to a beautiful teacher who started to complain. Within seconds her face contorted and shriveled until she looked old. This happens to us, too. We just don’t notice so much what it does to our body because many people in today’s society aren’t in-tune to the ways in which the spirit interacts with the body.

The Spirit gives life to the body. God is said to be the “Fountain of Living Waters.” Just as water gives life to a tree or plant, God’s Spirit gives life to our body. Science can confirm what the spirit does as science can confirm that water gives life to a tree. As our spine delivers nutrients to the rest of our body the spirit delivers nutrients to the body. The body is probably about 70% water. It moves freely through the blood and spine and lymph fluid.

There have been experiments where people found that if they talk positively to standing water the water seems to settle better and do a much better job of hydrating it’s host. You would not drink cursed water yet the definition of cursing is to talk negatively about something. When you complain you essentially are cursing your own life force. If you’ve ever been in a room with someone who is really negative and complaining you will notice yourself start to get heavier. It just brings everyone down.

Phillipians 2:14 says, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing,” (NIV).

To move forward with my story, I found myself getting discouraged about work. At work, I’ve been getting more and more upset about a client’s behaviors. She is autistic and mentally disabled. Today, while running errands, I found myself picking my own emotional scab by thinking about the negative effect my client has on me. The words I used in my mind were annoying, stupid and useless. For about a half an hour I engaged in irritating my own spirit by thinking about this problem. Having lived with myself for long enough I’ve realized that complaining doesn’t get me anywhere. Inwardly, it brings my emotions down and outwardly it annoys other people and discourages them from engaging in right behavior toward my client.

After I was pretty emotionally exhausted from thinking about the problem I decided to switch gears. I asked God to help me love her and see good in her for my sake mostly but also because she doesn’t have many friends or advocates in this world. Immediately I felt better because it closed my mind from further irritation and put the problem in God’s capable hands. God offers to help us in every situation; we just need to ask for it. He offers wisdom. That happens to be exactly what I need.

Sin also ages us. I think that is why God has such a problem with it. When I was younger – in my twenties, I went through a partying stage. I was going to the bar a lot, drinking, dancing and engaging in stupid and lewd activities. I kid you not, when I turned twenty-five I looked sixty. My hair was dry and course, my eyes looked old, I looked very awful for my age. I remember going to church for Christmas Eve services and looking like an old woman. A friend of mine I hadn’t seen in a while saw me and even commented on how old I looked. It really hurt my feelings. When I finally left that scene of trying to please myself and actually tried to obey God, His Spirit revived my body and people started to say that I looked young for my age.

Our church pastor had a similar experience. One week in church was really hard. Someone had died, someone had got into a horrible car accident, some people were getting divorced and in-general terrible things were happening. The good pastor that he was, Dave tried to help them all with counseling. When the week was over he looked like he had aged forty years. All of the trouble and sin in the church had aged him. When things cleared up God renewed his spirit and he looked young as ever.

A couple of days ago the word of the day was this on,

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life,” (Galatians 6:6-8 NIV).