Suffering can be a tremendous opportunity – if we view it within the context of love and eternal life. I did not appreciate this in my earlier years, but have come to realize that it is the highpoint of wisdom – if we have faith in a loving God. I have struggled with my eyesight since I was thirty years old, and can now understand the incredible value and opportunity of that struggle in my journey to come closer to God in love. For many years, when my eyes took another turn for the worse, I would go through yet another bout of frustration and anxiety—frustration, because I made the fatal error of comparing my diminished abilities with what I was once able to do—and anxiety, because I was not certain whether the new level of disability would end my productivity or people’s respect for my capacity to “deliver.” Looking back on it, I can honestly say that those frustrations were nothing more than an exercise in futility and that the anxieties—in every case—were completely unwarranted.
Let me say for the moment, that this initial negative reaction to suffering was really about perspective—how I viewed suffering and challenge—not so much the suffering or the challenge itself. I was not able to help myself. When the next level of disability came, I looked at it from a self-centric point of view. It seemed that the shocking development of “one more dreaded
decrease in eyesight” caused me, despite my faith, to turn into myself.
I suppose that this was just human nature, but I have learned one thing—the sooner I get over it by putting myself intothe hands of God—looking for the opportunity in suffering that will come through His guidance—the better off I am. If I did not have faith in a loving God, and hope in eternal life with him, I don’t think I would have a positive outlook on suffering – and I certainly would not be able to view it as an opportunity. I am not a stoic – so I wouldn’t have been able to see suffering as a way of cultivating strength, courage, self-discipline,self-sufficiency, invulnerability, and autonomy.
Some of this supposed value in suffering –- such as self-sufficiency, invulnerability, and autonomy — run contrary to my empathetic and interpersonal nature and so I view them as negatives – not benefits. The other stoic characteristics – strength, self-discipline and courage can be positive, but they are not ends in themselves – they are only means
to greater ends – such as contribution to others and the common good – to the objectives of love. I can see positive value in suffering through the lens of love which may be initially defined as a “recognition of the unique goodness of individuals inducing a sense of empathy and unity with them, making it just as easy, if not easier, to do the good for them as to do the good for myself.” Inasmuch as suffering can lead to greater humility, empathy for the needy, and compassion, it can free us to contribute to others, common cause, and the common good without counting the cost – advancing the purpose of love.
For me, this is a much higher purpose in life than the stoic characteristics mentioned above.
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