Peace Novena 2017 Day 2: Character in the midst of suffering

As we enter day 2 of the 2017 Peace Novena, I pray that we all find ways to be kind and to listen with an open heart. (If you don’t have time for prayer and reading this post, choose prayer. Novena rituals and prayer)

Suffering Is a Choice

Many people are real pain as a result of this election. For some the pain is so intense that important relationships are suffering. Yet how we deal with pain and suffering — whether psychic, emotional, physical, or otherwise — is always a choice.

We can choose to turn inward in despair or outward in kindness.

Chapter 4 of Opening Hearts is entitled Pain, Compassion, Choice, Transcendence.  In the following excerpt, Dr. Sauvage and I discuss some of the implications of dealing with pain.

Transcendence Kindness Wisdom

Even our wisest and most compassionate choices cannot always stop pain. To a certain degree, what cannot be cured must be endured. This point keeps us truly humble. We may rectify some of life’s pain but we cannot remove it all. However in those situations in which we can’t remove it, we can still find healing when we face it, embrace it, and thus transcend it. Embracing suffering as a necessary aspect of life actually enables us to be more fully human.

The Parable of the Butterfly

In embracing suffering, I’m reminded of the parable of the butterfly.

The butterfly struggles mightily to squeeze through a tiny hole in the chrysalis it builds to transform itself from a caterpillar that crawls on the ground into a magnificent flying creature that soars in the sky. A man watching the struggle took pity on the butterfly and tried to help by cutting a larger opening in the chrysalis.

What the man didn’t know was that the butterfly’s survival depended on the struggle and since the butterfly never finished its painful journey through the impossibly small hole in the chrysalis, it was unable to send the fluids from its body into its wings. Its body stayed swollen and mushy and its shriveled wings were never able to expand and the creature wasn’t able to fly.

You see, the struggle was a necessary part of the butterfly’s life; it was the only way the butterfly could become the beautiful soaring creature it was meant to be.

I’m not implying that the suffering of anyone should be left unattended. We must do everything in our power to relieve pain and suffering. I believe we all have the same responsibility whether we work in the medical field or not. But when we consider the question of pain, is it too much to assume that some pain is not only necessary but sometimes even noble because of the opportunities for growth that it can present?

Our Trials Are Invitations to Growth

Helen Keller alluded to this when she said,

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

Father Robert Spitzer, SJ, makes a similar point when he surmises that pain exists to give us the experiences that test our courage, compassion, humility, nobility, or strength; all things that build character and help us mature emotionally and spiritually.

Are these simple rationalizations or basic realistic truths? Ultimately, only God knows for sure. That said we can strive to ease suffering even as we accept it. We may not ever be truly free from pain in this life, but we can choose how we deal with it and whether or not we increase or decrease it among our fellow beings.

Kindness or Despair: It’s Always Our Choice

Perhaps our greatest human grace is kindness. Even in the face of pain, we can choose to be kind and generous with our presence. Again, Jesus is our model and our teacher. When confronted with betrayal, torture and humiliation, he chose forgiveness over revenge which would have only added pain. And while we may not, God willing, ever face such agonies ourselves, we can choose to make our world less miserable through kindness and understanding.

Pain in life is inevitable; despair is always a choice.

Will your pain deepen your compassion or plunge you into despair?


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