Today’s sermon at Christ Fellowship in Bowling Green talked about suffering. The message focused not on why we suffer, or if we will suffer, but how do we suffer well? I thought it was an intriguing take on the topic, and I really felt I learned a lot. I won’t go into it all of those details; for those who are interested, I assume it will be up soon on the website.
The whole discussion on suffering really led me to thinking about the concept of how I might consider that I suffer. Intellectually, I know I don’t suffer, not really. I live in the United States, in a mostly middle class family, with plenty to eat, a nice house, a husband who loves me and gives so much to me, a healthy family… I could go on for quite awhile!
It seems near ridiculous for me to even contemplate suffering in a global sense. That’s not to say that people in America don’t suffer. Many do, and I know that it will happen at some point in my life. However, it’s not the case right now. But, the point of all of this–I realized that if I am really honest, I do sometimes consider certain things in my life to fall into the category of “suffering.” Upon reflection, however, they all fall into the category of, “This did not go as I planned.”
I like to make plans; even long-range plans. Even though I know that any number of small changes could drastically change the trajectory of a given path, I still like to make plans. And, I have found that when those plans are challenged, or even shattered, in my mind I consider it to be a big hardship, almost even suffering.
Take our move from California. Yes, there was great uncertainty for a period of about 10 months. We had no idea where we would be living long-term, what exactly we would be doing. And yes, that was hard. But was it suffering? Not really. We were so clearly loved by friends and family, and really never had to do without basic necessities, even with no income. We lived with my parents for 8 months, squished into their small house, and they were never resentful. We were supported by Carl’s parents, and they never expressed even disappointment.
Yet, it felt like suffering. I cried about the uncertainty, and about the loss of the dreams I’d had living in the Bay Area. I still cry, often, even today, about the loss of some very special friendships. (side note: I did not lose these friends. They are very special friends, and they will always be special friends, with a very sweet spot in my heart. But it’s different when you live very far away, and I did lose that closeness of seeing someone several times a week, hanging out together, living life together.)
Certain events in the last few months have brought on another round of this “suffering.” I had, even though I knew it wasn’t a sure thing, made my own plans to live in South Bend for years and years. I really love it in South Bend. I love my house, I love our neighborhood. I love the sweet friendship between Perpetual Motion Boy and the neighbor boys. I love my school; I love walking there. I love the educational opportunities for Humorous Thinker on the horizon–the next two years seem promising, and then there is the option for 7-12 a school that is nearly my educational ideal for him. I love the diversity of the community and school for Miss Imagination. It seemed near perfect for the forever home.
But, these certain events have made this forever home an uncertain thing. It seems likely that we could live here for 5-6 more years; after that, there is just no guarantee. And I found myself mourning and grieving, and responding like I would to suffering, faced with yet again another shake-up of my plans. I felt hurt, and anger… and suffering.
This morning it occurred to me that I need to draw a firm distinction in my mind and emotions between suffering and disappointment. They are so very different. I can be sad about the loss of a clear future plan. I can be disappointed that I don’t know where we’ll be living 10 years from now. But that disappointment does not mean I’m suffering. On the contrary, the mere ability to be disappointed about something so minor shows that I really am not suffering at all. This is not disappointment over major loss. It’s not even a real loss, just a perceived loss, and this “loss” could lead to far greater things. Because, 3 years ago, I never imagined this current trajectory of my life, and it is such a fun time! It took some disappointment and sadness to get this, and the next transition we have, if we have it, may also contain sadness and disappointment, but will likely lead to some more surprised I couldn’t have even begun to dream.
It’s not suffering to have to let go of dreams. I’m not sure I can stop creating dreams, but I do pray that with time and maturity, I will get better at letting go of them when they turn, so that they can turn into something even more than I ever could have imagined.