Sunday, October 12, 2014

Our pain

"Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something."

             ~the Man in Black (aka Westley) to Buttercup in The Princess Bride

We all have pain.  How we view our pain, and how we handle it, says a lot about us.

As humans, sociological creatures living on a world together, we tend to view our pain in light of other people's pain.  There are a number of ways we can go with this.

(1)  The person who minimizes his pain, and minimizes the pain of others.  He says, "I do not hurt, and neither do you."  We often call this person a stoic.  Stoics are not sympathetic, but, to their credit, they do not complain, either.

(2)  The person who maximizes his pain, and maximizes the pain of others.  This person is very sympathetic, and is often a woman, so we will henceforth switch to the female pronoun.  We love her because she loves us.  She projects her feelings onto us, and cries for us whenever there is cause to cry.  She cries a great deal and always has tissues in her purse.  We are prone to be sympathetic to her when she is undergoing her own pain, since she has always been so sympathetic to others.  We might call her an empath.

(3)  The person who minimizes his own pain and maximizes the pain of others.  This person thinks little about himself and much about what others are going through.  He never complains, yet he is always ready with kindness, encouragement and good deeds for those who are suffering.  We call him a saint. He is very rare.

(4)  The person who maximizes his own pain and minimizes the pain of others.  This person is on a quest to win the "My Life is the Worst" award.  He constantly complains and is always ready to explain why his issues are much more difficult than yours.  If you open up to this person about a struggle, this person will tell you, "Oh, that's no big deal.  You're fine."  Then he will proceed to enumerate all the horrors he has gone through, himself, that far outweigh your piddly problem.  We call this person selfish and insufferable.  We are most likely to guard ourselves against becoming this person if we have suffered at his hands.

The trick is to find balance and to ask God to help us see our own problems as He would have us to see them, neither to minimize nor to maximize, but to accept and learn.

If my problem is that I've been throwing up every 20 minutes for the past 6 hours, I do not need to think that I have the worst problem in the world.  Indeed, there are people dying of cancer, people being tortured for their beliefs in China, people who just lost a child to a horrible car accident.  These are bigger problems than my stomach flu, but it does not mean that I am not suffering in my own right.

In very nearly every situation where I suffer, there are those who suffer more than I do, and those who suffer less.  But just because a political prisoner is being starved in a dirt-floored prison cell somewhere in the third world, it doesn't mean that my little toe doesn't hurt like crazy when I break it by stubbing it on a wooden crate at the local farmers' market.  At the same time, just because the lady over there thinks she's having a terrible day because she got a speeding ticket, it does not mean that you can belittle her experience because you happened to lose your job.

Expect pain.  It will come.

Acknowledge pain.  It is okay to hurt.  It is okay for you, and it is okay for others.  Be gracious to yourself and to others when pain comes along. 

Accept pain.  It will teach you something.  Learn well.

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