Given that this was my first Lent season as a certified coach, I planted a seed in my head that I will want to reconcile for myself the crucifixion that is at the center of Christian tradition and the stereotypical wellness advice that in a nut shell tells you suffering is a choice …. and not a particularly productive one at that. Today as I’m writing this paragraph I feel like I’m ready, so here we go …
Pain is what you feel. Each person has different pain thresholds for different events, but at the end of the day that feeling is very real.
Suffering is the processing of the painful experience.
In my original draft I started off by making a distinction between self-inflicted wounds (i.e. repeating bad patterns) and suffering (i.e process of coming to terms with something that cannot change).
The more I thought about it though, I don’t think that distinction is particularly helpful. Even if it is a self-inflicted wound, the person may not perceive it as such. For example, I used to attract all sorts of “dysfunctional” partners, but it took me a while to understand that it was my undealt with brokenness that drew in different faces, but yet the very same, all too familiar feeling of disappointment. Back then the last thing that came to my mind was self-inflicted … in my world I was the victim.
I know. This is not like I had cancer or lost my life savings, but to me the suffering was very real.
Ok. So where does this lead to then? Is suffering something that should be sought after?
No, of course not. It is a fact of life though and as such I view this question as a moot point. Instead, the image that comes to my mind is that of a fingerprint, which makes each of us inexhaustibly one of a kind.
But I want to bring it back to the person who is the source of this reflection. Jesus. See, even as fully God, he was sweating blood the night before his passion. That right there not only teaches me by example to embrace my suffering, but also not to hide my pain out of shame.
Every time I meet a fascinating person, without fail, sooner or later, I find out the very sufferings they went through … not reframed from … that transformed them into the amazing person they are today.
This works just as well on the flip side. For every person that rubbed me the wrong way, it was always the moment I learned about a painful situation they went through that instantaneously made all of my true or perceived wrongs disappear in an instant …. Paving way for a beautiful friendship.
The most recent instance of this is an old supervisor at work whom I labeled in my mind as a corporate “Pontius Pilate.” That was until the day he shared that his whole life, he’s been taking care of his two disabled siblings. In that moment, all that blocked us simply melted away and our relationship began to flourish.
In the end I decided to keep the original title for this blog.
Don’t let the threat of self-inflicted pain label stop you from sharing your whole humanity. After all, it is what made you into who you are. So while I don’t advocate dispensing your life’s story to every person you just met, don’t hold back when it feels right … because that will be the spark for an authentic connection.
The type of connection that will make space for a transformation.
How has suffering turned you into the person you are today? Are you held back by the self-inflicted label?