So in this blog, I want to talk about suffering, but I don't want to compare sufferings, I don't think that is right. I believe that suffering is relative. Viktor Frankl said that 'suffering is more like the behavior of gas. If any amount of gas was put in a room, it'd fill up the room completely and evenly, no matter how big the room. Suffering does this to the human soul and mind, no matter if it's great or little, therefore size of suffering is relative.' (paraphrased). In the beginning of May I heard a quote from Mark Twain that said "If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first." This might sound separate but I'll get to it.
Since I've heard that quote it's changed how I approach work as a freelancer. I've usually worked great with to-do lists. But now, after I write down all the things that I have to do for the day, I find the one that I want to do least and do that first. After that, everything is easier in comparison and I've increased my productivity drastically.
So from that experience I've learned to start embracing even the small sufferings in life. I've realized that we try to avoid any kind of suffering big and small. Even when it comes to something like getting out of bed, when our alarm goes off we hit snooze. We want to delay the suffering. Because to stay in bed would be to stay in comfort and warmth and to get out of bed is to suffer a little. But that's a good thing.
We don't deny ourselves much of anything. When we are hungry, we eat. In America, we are about 5 minutes away from a meal or a snack at any moment. We can walk to the fridge or go to a drive-thru. We don't know what it truly means to hunger. When we want to watch a movie, we watch it. When we want to do anything, we just do it. Then we are confused why we can't control ourselves when it comes to diets, looking at porn or having another drink. We've never denied ourselves anything throughout the whole week so when it comes to important things, our 'deny ourself' muscle is weak and we give in. Whatever we want to do, whatever makes us feel good, we do it.
Because to avoid sex, porn, drunkenness, impulse buying, overeating, Netflix binging, etc. Resisting whatever tempts us is suffering for us. It's hard to stop watching a TV show when all the episodes are right there in front of us. Our curiosity makes us suffer when we haven't 'caught up' with our shows. To pray, get quiet time, read and face responsibilities is suffering for us as well. We delay, "mark as unread", hit snooze and take care of things later. We avoid anything that is hard. We generally just don't do anything that we don't want to do. So when real suffering comes, like death of a loved one, we can't hit the snooze button. We don't know how to handle it well.
And this generation celebrates it. Do what you want, when you want. Delay responsibilities. Historically this never turned out good for any culture that embraced this philosophy.
I've been reading a book "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl and it's been blowing my mind.
To describe it quickly, it's a book written by a jewish concentration camp survivor. He was a phycologist before going in and eventually got to apply a lot of his theories in one of the worst mass sufferings in human history.
During this time a famous phycologist, Freud, had a (popular) theory that "the main desire in all humans is pleasure", basically that behind everything that we do, it is an attempt at pleasure. But Frankl's theory was that everyone's main desire is meaning and when we don't find that, we seek out pleasure. Almost to distract ourselves from a lack of meaning.
Basically, if you have a reason a meaning to suffer (even the smallest sufferings, like get out of bed early) it'll help you face it. Even if it's a small meaning, like to not get fired. But if you have a strong meaning, it'll help you through great suffering. Frank Capra said "The spirit of man is never lower than when he wakes up with noting to rush to."
So in Viktor's book, he talks a lot about how meaning is what can get us through the worst of sufferings. Nietzsche said that "He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How" and Frankl agrees, in his own words:
Such people forgot that often it is just such an exceptionally difficult external situation which gives man the opportunity to grow spiritually beyond himself. Instead of taking the [concentration] camp's difficulties as a test of their inner strength, they did not take their life seriously and despised it as something of no consequence. They preferring to close their eyes and to live in the past. Life for such people became meaningless...
...We could say that most men in a concentration camp believed that the real opportunities of life had passed. Yet, in reality, there was an opportunity and a challenge. One could make a victory of those experiences, turning life into an inner triumph, or one could ignore the challenge and simply vegetate, as did a majority of the prisoners.
Separately, in the same week, I read this from a blog:
I have noticed that people tend to stop maturing when they start self-medicating. Everyone has very tough seasons in life, but by persevering through them we have an opportunity to mature and grow as people. Those who self-medicate with drugs and/or alcohol, Netflix* (as well as other things) often thwart maturity as they escape the tough seasons of life rather than face them.
This explains why some people can be biologically much older than they are emotionally and spiritually.
*I added Netflix.
So, I started seeing a lot of people from a lot of different generations and eras, all start saying in their own words that it is in the suffering that we grow and become the people that we must become. I went to church that week and they read this from Paul:
Romans 5:3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope."
That night, I watched a Hitchcock film "The Man Who Knew Too Much" and in a quick background sentence someone says "Few of us pause to think how life's adversities work in our behalf, to make better men and women of us."
So after getting the same theme throughout the week. I was starting to get worried that God was preparing me for a boat load of suffering or something. But either way I started accepting that suffering is as much a part of life as death is. I know that from my past that suffering has grown me into the person that I am now.
About a year ago, I interviewed a former prostitute. This is a transcription from our interview and this is the very thing that she started the interview with.
First I want to say I wouldn’t trade nothing for what I’ve been though, because what I’ve been through is what led me to build a relationship with Jesus. I was asked one time if I could change something, what would I change and my answer is nothing, I wouldn’t trade nothing...
Then, she continued:
I was born in a terrible situation, my mom was an addict and when I was 7 she shot me up with heroin and repeatedly sold me. Over and over.
Her story goes on to talk about crack addiction, gang-bangs, self-abortion attempts and even being raped from most of her family members. And she kept saying that she "wouldn't trade nothing".
While learning all of this about suffering. I've recently been talking to a pedophile for a film that I'm writing. After a lot of research of something as dark as pedophilia there was something beautiful on the other side, I've learned that there is a whole community of pedophiles that say "I'm sexually attracted to children, but I don't ever want to act out on it and I need help". The one that I've gotten to know is 50 years old and has never acted out on his attraction. And there is a community of them trying to help each other, because there is very little help for pedophiles. If they go to therapy or even confessional, there's a risk of getting reported due to the mandatory reporting laws, so they generally refrain from confiding in anyone. He told me that two people in his community have called the suicide hotline because of their depression and discussed their problem and they were told basically "go ahead, the world would be a better place without you".
I can't imagine how lonely that struggle must be. How misunderstood and excommunicated they must feel. In my career, I've gotten to film/meet former prostitutes, girls that were sexually/physically abused their whole lives, failed self-abortionists, women with successful abortions, people that had their daughter thrown three blocks in a tornado and killed, a guy that has lost his ability to use the left-side of his body, down-syndrome people and family members of mentally handicapped, homeless men and women, parents that have buried their young children, brutal divorces, celibate homosexuals and have seen starvation in the slums of Africa. I've seen a common thread in all of them, that life is worth it and the struggles are what grew them spiritually and personally. Though most aren't grateful for their suffering directly, they said they wouldn't trade the character, wisdom and strength they've gotten from the suffering.
2 Corinthians 12:7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
I truly believe that all of us have a cross we must bare, something that we have to deny ourselves. That's why Jesus says to die to yourself everyday.
In Luke, Jesus says that "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it."
In C.S. Lewis' "The Great Divorce" he talks about Heaven having grass as hard as diamonds, because in "God's country" it was so substantial that when the main character went there it hurt him at first, but through walking on it after time, his feet became more calloused and he became a person of substance where he could bend the blades of grass. And in Hell, everyone got whatever they wanted when they thought of it. So when they quarreled with a neighbor they'd think up a new house down the street, until the nearest person was a 7 years journey. They got what they wanted, but it wasn't substantial and it was lonely.
I think the first and often forgotten part of the gospel is that Jesus loves you. He's not scared of your current or past situation. That's my job, if I only can say one sentence, I will say that Jesus loves you, no matter where you're at. That truth has become more and more real to me throughout my life, not because of the good I've learned to do, but because of the times I've failed that I was able to understand the depth of that.
Recently, I posted a Facebook post saying "Jesus loves (any name) Jenner". And a lot of people agreed but also some told me that it's not the full truth, that he is a sinner and Jesus loves him enough to call him from his sin. If I just posted "Jesus loves Bill Gates", I don't think people would have told me that I'd have to mention the second part. But honestly, I don't think Jesus sees them differently. I really don't. I believe that Bruce and Bill both are loved by Jesus. But I also believe that if they came to Jesus, he would ask them to change some things in their life. There isn't anyone, if they came to Jesus, that he wouldn't ask them to change certain things about their lives, deny other things and continue some other things.
That's the point, Jesus is calling all of us to deny ourselves. First off, every real relationship requires sacrifice. The amount of sacrifice changes with depth of the relationship. With a friend relationship you might have to watch a movie you wouldn't normally watch and with a marriage relationship, you might have to give up something all together and with a parental relationship, you might have to sacrifice your time to feed them and pay bills.
The problem is, that we are told that sacrifice is a bad thing. If we were kernels of wheat, we would want growth without falling into the ground and dying**. We want to be wheat without sitting in the rain and the hot sun.
I once wrote a blog about what if we could think in the womb. We'd think, "why am I growing legs, I don't need those here" and then "Why am I growing eyes, it's dark, I don't need these" and it might cause us growing pains. But then when we're ripped out of the womb into the cold world, it's worse by comparison. But then we suffer through life not really understanding why we are going through this suffering or that, and usually when we are about to die we leave kicking and screaming, but not knowing that in the next world, we are going to finally put to use all of the suffering that we endured here on earth.
The thing is, Jesus absolutely loves you. But if you come to him and truly let him lead you. He will absolutely grow you, stretch you and give you an abundant life. Because he loves you. But I assure you, it will seem like he doesn't want you happy because he'll take away your dessert until you eat your vegetables. But I assure you, you'll be better for it. He'll trade your happiness to give you joy if you let him.
And honestly, Jesus will tell you to give up and if you don't want to give it up, he'll let you walk away, which he did when he told the rich man to give up certain things. Jesus didn't see him start walking away and say "wait, hold on, let's figure this out or make a compromise". Jesus didn't pretend that the rich ruler was following him, because he wasn't. If Jesus tells you something and you don't do it, you're not following him. You might love him and his teaching, but you don't trust him.
"Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." -Galatians
I do believe there are universal sins. The ones mentioned in the Bible. I also believe that there is the sin of disobedience. If Jesus tells you to give up something and you don't, that's a sin. But it doesn't mean it's a sin for someone else. This is where judging happens, because when someone abstains from something like alcohol and sometimes thinks that anyone else that drinks alcohol is sinning.
The thing is, Jesus loves you. If you really believe that, you'll trust him with your life and your actions. It's going to suck at times. It's going to be swimming upstream like a salmon. But if you know that swimming upstream is for a greater purpose like laying eggs, you'll power through it easier.
The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the sufferings it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity--even under the most difficult circumstances--to add a deeper meaning to this life. If there is a meaning of life at all, there must be meaning in suffering. -Viktor Frankl
In conclusion, Jesus doesn't make your life easy, he will make it worth it though. The things he asks of you might even be the source of your suffering. But I assure you that it will also be the source of your meaning. Which can get you through your suffering, change you and give you joy, even in the midst of your suffering.
You strike the match... why not be utterly changed to fire? To sacrifice the shadow and the mist of a brief life you never much liked? So if you'd care to come along, we're gonna curb all our never-ending, clever complaining, as who's ever heard of a singer criticized by his song? Though we hunger, though all that we eat brings us little relief, we don't know quite what else to do; We have all our beliefs, but we don't want our beliefs...
G-d of Peace, we want You. (mewithoutYou)
Whatever your lot, whatever the thorn in your side, you might have made it your identity, your crutch, your box or your lenses in which you understand the world. To trade those in for clearer lenses and for a deeper identity, it will hurt. It will be tough. but I assure you it will be worth it and it will give you a meaning to your suffering that will help you endure.
**Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24