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Seven Gifts of Suffering

Updated on April 1, 2013
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Are there any, really?

Humans are programmed to approach suffering as a negative reality...and for the most part, it is. Just what is suffering? Simply put, it is being forced to loose something that we are not yet ready to loose, which usually causes us some pain. This pain may be great or small depending on the level of attachment that we had to the thing lost: A parent, a relationship, a job, social standing, reputation, opportunity, money, a pet, even a dream! The experience of pain and loss, or of grief and anger can be subtle and fleeting or crushing and enduring. It may often be unnecessary, but just as often, it is unavoidable.

Suffering persons usually end up either very wise or very bitter. This is because suffering generally blows away illusions that we have built up in our human minds about what life is all about. It all depends on the choices we make regarding the suffering, especially when it is unavoidable.

Now, we cannot always get rid of it. We cannot always change the circumstances in which we find ourselves. But acquiring a different perspective on it will help us to make peace with suffering during those times that we cannot avoid it. Then, we can better cope and even gain some growth in the process.

A good way to do this is to look for the silver lining. Ask yourself: What hidden treasures exist, if any, in this unpleasant yet unavoidable part of my life?

1) Humility

Suffering often reminds us of the simple fact that we can't do everything we thought we could do, that we are not perfect and that sometimes life simply does not have to follow the plans we've laid out for it. Humility involves learning about one's own limitations, and there is no better teacher for this than suffering. Suffering does more than give an intuitive lesson on humility. It throws us right into the mix and forces us to experience in our very bones, the limitations of our existence. An experiential knowledge of our weakness is true knowledge and it often leads to humility.

Humility then leads us to dependence on others, to co-operation, to prayer, perhaps even to God. Sometimes we need to be little and to allow ourselves to be taken care of. Sometimes, we need to give permission to others to love us, and to ourselves--to be loved. We are not by nature, stoics. And yet without suffering, we would never know it.

2) Compassion

Having known what it is to be little, to have nothing, to fail, to disappoint and to mess up, the person who has been through suffering is a little slower to judge or condemn. He's a little quicker to forgive and is much more understanding with the little quirks of his fellow human beings, as he is with their greater faults. He becomes a much better and truer friend and companion than ever before.

3) Detachment

Detachment comes always from a drastic shift in perspective or a sudden opening of the eyes to the worthlessness of what has been so jealously gripped by one's heart till now. Nothing draws us from our habitual ruts as effectively as detachment. Often times, if we look deeply into our past suffering experiences, we will find that we came out of it with less baggage than we had going in. Suffering helps us let go of those things we needed to let go of, but somehow couldn't on our own.

4) Patience

This compassion, humility and detachment lead us to be patient. We find that we are more tolerant of life's necessary difficulties, big and small. We don't always have to have our own way because we have learned that our way is not always the only way or even the best way or (sometimes) a good way! We may lose a chunk of our controlling issues. Our jobs, countries, family and friends, colleagues and subordinates (the world!) no longer have to be exactly as we want them to be. We can let things go on as they do and let providence handle what is too big for us.

5) Happiness

As we loose our superficial pursuits (detachment), selfishness and pride (humility, compassion and patience) and get on to following deeper ones, we may find that we have become happier than we were before the suffering! We may find that carrying less baggage has left more room for substance in our lives. We may find that our time, our resources and our efforts have been freed from much meaningless and rote occupations; and we may just discover what really matters to us, even stumble on our destiny or our real passion!--Which leads us to the next gift of suffering-- Courage.

6) Courage

Courage is the strength to pursue what is good in spite of fear or difficulty. I've always thought it hard (if not impossible) to be brave without some grounding in happiness. You might wonder-- But isn't it precisely when you're down and out that you need courage? Now, I don't know about you, but the most courageous people I know are very happy people! They are better able to choose wisely, to gauge danger and to see the benefits in the long run because they're less desperate, less attached to having to obtain particular outcomes in the risks they take. These people are also the ones who have some real view of the light ahead and are therefore those most likely to take that leap of faith, again and again, hoping that they will eventually land in that place of promise that they have glimpsed from a distance.

7) Wisdom

Have you noticed how valuable wise persons are in every age? People travel long distances in hope of a single insight from them. What are they looking for? Some might call it: perspective. It's what happens to a person after a lifetime of lessons in the hard school of experience. Gains and losses, fortune and regret, real encounters with true love and failures in love--counterfeits of love too! These are the exercises we must all take in that school of life. And what lesson must we all learn? Wisdom. This is the sum of all the other lessons, or gifts or graces we've already discussed.

  • What is wisdom?

Wisdom is when you gain a deep appreciation of life's most important things. In fact, it's the actual insight into this secret ordering of things according to their real, transcendent value in the grand scheme of things --all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. Provided that it is always well guarded, this gift, once obtained, proves more precious and handy than a dozen girlfriends. It's like having your own inner Bible at all of life's multiple crossroads.

Depending on many factors, you can choose to use this new lesson learned (about what is of real value and lasts and what is not) positively, to make important changes in your life. You can let go of the false ideals that you had hitherto sought with an unrelenting passion, and pursue instead, that precious thing of value that your eyes have now been opened to. You can leave those friends whose opinions used to be so important but whose love has proved counterfeit, for example. You can make up for lost time with that remaining living parent whom you have long neglected for life's more shallow pursuits.

Of course, you could also decide that life is not worth living if you cannot have what you've always wanted. Hidden in all this is a choice, subtle and sometimes unconscious, yet with great rippling effects throughout the rest of our lives. You get to decide if suffering will be a hidden treasure or a robber.

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    • Mary Merriment profile image

      Mary Merriment 4 years ago from Boise area, Idaho

      What a beautiful perspective of the purpose of life's challenges.

    • Eva Civo profile image
      Author

      Eva Civo 4 years ago

      Thanks so much, Mary Merriment! I'm glad you liked it.

    • gsidley profile image

      Dr. Gary L. Sidley 4 years ago from Lancashire, England

      There is much wisdom in this hub, and well written too.

      In the mental health field there is a view that an episode of depression has evolved as a way of indicating that something in one's life needs to change. This seems a similar idea to those proposed in your hub.

      I'm your latest follower.

    • Eva Civo profile image
      Author

      Eva Civo 4 years ago

      Thanx gsidley, you're so right! That's our innermost selves (or God) communicating to us that something needs to change. Thanx so much for that.

    • weekz profile image

      weekz 3 years ago

      What a good piece. I enjoyed reading it, we can certainly learn a lot from suffering once it is put into perspective. It is an article worth referring to time an time again

    • Eva Civo profile image
      Author

      Eva Civo 3 years ago

      Thank so much weekz! I'm glad you found it helpful.

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