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Translating Your Suffering into a Durable Hope

Translating Your Suffering into a Durable Hope

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. — Romans 5:1–5

Max’s interminable ruminations, always worrying about never getting it right, never being good enough in his career, had the effect of both sweeping him into the fast track of advancement — because of how hard he worked in response to his worry — and leading him to accumulate a life of misery along the way.

Carmina was married to a man who, committed as he was to the tenets of their faith, had no commitment whatsoever to being curious about his inner life or his outer harshness that he frequently directed at her in public, leaving her to a life of longing and languishing, trapped in a dry well of sadness and despair.

Edwin’s autoimmune arthritic condition had, over twenty years, slowly done everything but kill him. He didn’t want to die. But he had a hard time wanting to live.

Karen lost her husband in Afghanistan and her son to a drug overdose. Now she most feared losing her very soul to the subsequent continual pain of loss that she perceived as nearly too much to bear.

Westin’s serial infidelities had corrupted everyone and everything around him. The very thought of an intimate relationship, despite his desperate longing for one, only compounded his shame and his fear of that very thing he most longed for. Shame and fear that consumed most of his waking hours.

Paulina had done hard, effective spiritual and emotional work for several years, developing resilience and joy on so many fronts. Why, then, did the old, familiar family story continue to haunt her, blindsiding her at the most inopportune times, leaving her emotionally distraught for days on end?

Time in prison was one thing. Living with the shame of it after being released was worse. What was Garrett to do with the incessant battering his mind had to withstand simply to get from the morning to the night as he tried to forget his past?

To be human is to suffer.

Indeed, suffering was at the center of the experiences of each of the people whose stories you just read. It was ultimately, in fact, what prompted and escorted them into my office. Moreover, hope felt desperately out of reach, often perceived as a mirage that evaporated anytime any of them was engulfed with the images and sensations of their affliction.

But although it was perceived to be beyond them, hope was not completely out of their visual field, or they would not have been speaking with me in the first place. However, it only flitted through their peripheral vision; suffering — and the attendant story that they were telling about it — most often occupied their direct sight line.

Certainly, each person’s suffering is unique to the individual; with a nod to Tolstoy, each of us is unhappy — we suffer — in our own particular way. At the same time, the suffering of those who have joined me in my office shared common characteristics. However, beyond our awareness that all suffering shares common attributes, most important is the reality that we all suffer, even if we are often quite extraordinarily unaware of it.

The question is not if we each suffer. It is, rather, To what degree are we aware of it? and How are we in relationship with and responding to it? These questions reveal not only the story we believe we are living in, but the role that suffering plays in that narrative.

You have chosen to read this article for any number of reasons. You may be one who suffers, and you know it. Or perhaps you know someone else who suffers, and you want to help them. Or you may be curious about suffering but don’t think you encounter it that often or that deeply and have questions about why that is. Perhaps you wonder if the pain you hold qualifies as suffering and want to know if you are permitted to name it as such. In the face of your suffering or that of others, you long to discover and maintain hope, all the while attempting to make sense of the suffering in the process.

But I will tell you why I would likely want to read a book, any book, about suffering. At some level,

  • I am hoping that I will discover how I will be able to suffer less. Less painfully. Less often. I want to know more about suffering so that I can have less of it in my life.

Of course, it’s okay if I learn some things about it along the way — but again, only if what I learn helps me mitigate it.

If I am going to read a book about suffering and hope, I would anticipate that the first step would be either to understand suffering or, even better, to discover solutions for it, so that at the end of the day in some way I actually won’t have to suffer as much as I might otherwise. And therein would lie the hope. Why would I want to read something that would merely validate and reinforce the message, “Yes, you’re right. Suffering is hard. End of story.” Where is there any hope in that message?

I want to be hopeful. Hopeful that I have agency to diminish my suffering. Because, I admit, I don’t easily comprehend how hope and suffering coexist in my mind and life. But one of the things you will learn over the course of my book The Deepest Place is that, from the standpoint of the biblical narrative and in light of what we are discovering about neuroscience,

suffering — while not God’s ideal intention — is a necessary element in our becoming our truest, most beautiful, most Heaven-ready selves.

It is an unavoidable reality of life. One that God plainly does not fully deliver us from in the time frame we would like, if ever.

Moreover, it is a reality that he seems just as plainly committed to using suffering — for reasons that are a great mystery to me — to transform us into who He wants us to become. However, it remains something that I most often choose to avoid if possible instead of accepting it as having anything to do with becoming who I actually long to be.

All of this is both very hard and very good news. It’s easy to imagine why it is hard. But to approach understanding how in any universe it could be good will require what may be a severe overhaul of our imaginations. The Deepest Place intends to address what is required for us to form deeply embedded, durable hope, not only in the presence of our pain but as a direct result of it.

I make no promise that we will suffer less. But I am confident that we will suffer differently and will become even more durably hopeful as a result. Primarily, I expect us to come to see that hope is actually a word that, in the world of interpersonal neurobiology, serves as a proxy for an ever-deepening attachment love with Jesus and the commensurate awareness of God’s relational presence of lovingkindness.

Adapted from The Deepest Place: Suffering and the Formation of Hope by Curt Thompson, MD.

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Your Turn

Are you suffering? No doubt, along with Dr. Thompson, we want to suffer less often, less acutely, and even differently. It requires realizing that God is good and He is good to us. He allows suffering, yes, but in a redemptive and Heaven-preparatory way. Can you trust in that today? Come share your thought with us. We want to hear from you. ~ Devotionals Daily