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.