Pain is a given. Suffering is optional. Really.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in “Letters and Papers from Prison”, wrote “We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” While most of us would regard this as honourable and true, especially when compared to Mein Kampf’s seemingly interminable “eternal struggle”, I would like to invite us all to take a step back and engage in some reflection.

Do all who suffer suffer for righteousness’ sake? I sense that most of us would agree, especially when it is ourselves who are undergoing the suffering. After all, I am basically a good person, and therefore the pain I am going through now must needs be caused by some evil of such awful mien that, to be hated, needs but to be seen, and must therefore be forthwith removed for the good of all mankind. Really? If I become afflicted by some disease, perhaps kidney failure, or lung cancer, and it is clear that my lifestyle choices have brought them upon my own head, can I ascribe that fault to “some evil of such awful mien”? Of course not! What then? For it is clear that none of us wishes to suffer, regardless of whether that suffering is of our own device or even if it occurs due to circumstances beyond our control. It is also clear that the world in which we live is full of pain and suffering. Is it possible to avoid or at least reduce the amount and degree of suffering that appears to be unavoidable?

I would suggest that we become very clear as to the raison d’etre of our own lives. Once we have that kind of vision, then present pain is more readily endured for the sake of coming fulfillment. Present pain is never welcome but can be used for us to become stronger, whether we be young or old. I cannot overemphasize the need to establish the raison d’etre of our lives early on in life, in children. Two days ago I was ambling through one of our many public parks in my own ceaseless struggle against slothfulness when I overheard a young child telling the adult accompanying him “People are very bad for Nature.” The path and trees hazed over briefly. When I could see clearly again, my willingness to shoulder the burden of helping people grasp their own life raison d’etre grew a little bit more. What kind of misery lies ahead for that child if he continues to grow up thinking of himself as a blight on the face of the earth? Would his inevitable suffering be something good? I trow not. What of the rest of us? Are our trajectories tragic or thoughtfully trustworthy? If we need to change course, are we able to generate the thrust required?

Make no mistake. All pain causes suffering. How we suffer that suffering depends on our own clarity of destination. If we do not even know our destination, how are we to enjoy the journey?

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