In Others’ Words: A Different Perspective on Suffering

Suffering 2016

Dr. Kelly Flanagan writes the blog UnTangled. Today’s quote was in his post titled “This Could Be the Difference Between a Life of Suffering or Joy.”

I’ve seen various definitions of suffering, but his statement — Suffering is the resistance to what is — stopped me short. Suffering? Resistance to what is? And then I continued reading:

Suffering is opposition to the present moment and demand for the next moment. Suffering is having this but wanting that. Suffering is the search for the next thing. Suffering is the mental roaming we do for what might be.

And I read that paragraph several times. Let the words echo in my heart. And I heard the truth of it.

Maybe some of you want to argue that suffering is more than this. That there are more types of suffering than what Dr. Flanagan’s definition.That may well be true. But stay with me today, with this definition of suffering … the suffering brought on by discontent. The suffering created by refusing to admit that what we want — the relationship that we long to have with another person, perhaps? — hasn’t happened yet and it isn’t going to happen barring some miraculous change in them. Or in us.

And wanting what isn’t, longing for something that very well can’t happen … is a form of suffering. Rather than being present in whatever our “now” is — be it joy-filled or pain-filled — we let our thoughts roam to the future what-ifs and might-bes. 

And we suffer for it. We chafe against our circumstances, wondering why God isn’t showing up. Or is it that we missed Him because we were not present here and now? There is no help to be had because we don’t pause long enough to see what others are offering us: Comfort. Counsel.

I’m still weighing this new definition of suffering. Sifting the truth of it … and trying not to oppose the present moments in my life.

In Your Words: I’d love to hear your thoughts on suffering as “the resistance to what is.” How does that definition resonate with you? Where do you want to push back against Dr. Flanagan’s thoughts?

 

1 blogger likes this post!
Be Sociable, Share!

Related Posts

In Others’ Words: The Reality of Dreams

In Others’ Words: The Reality of Dreams

In Others’ Words: The Practice and Purpose of Journaling

In Others’ Words: The Practice and Purpose of Journaling

In Others’ Words: The Beautiful, Terrible Truth

In Others’ Words: The Beautiful, Terrible Truth

11 Comments

  1. March 17, 2016, 5:34 am   /  Reply

    You knew I had to comment on this, right?

    With the understanding that, yes, there are types of suffering, I can see where emotional suffering could be caused by resistance. Even physical suffering could be aggravated by resistance to try to understand what’s causing the pain. In other words, wallowing versus acceptance.

    I believe that anytime we suffer, we go through five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Sometimes it just takes longer to move through the first four.

    This made me think, Beth. Thanks for posting it.

    • March 17, 2016, 10:26 am   /  Reply

      Yes, Angie, this post made me think, too. And is still making me think. And Dr. Flanagan is talking of one type of suffering — discontent. And I understand that kind of suffering: the longing for what should have been. For what can’t be. And in doing so, you miss out on now. You miss out on what you have. And you lose out, too.

  2. March 17, 2016, 6:51 am   /  Reply

    Hmmm, I never thought about this perspective on suffering before, but it makes sense. Sometimes we suffer because we want what we want, but it isn’t necessarily what’s best for us. I’ve definitely suffered as a result of discontentment, but I never thought about it in this light before.

    One of my goals this year is to be present in each moment. If I’m suffering in a day, or a moment, I guess I’d best evaluate the why behind it and check my motivations. 🙂

    You’ve got me thinking. Thanks, Beth!

    • March 17, 2016, 10:27 am   /  Reply

      I like quotes that force me to tilt my perspective. That bring me up short. This one did today. And I think it’s doing that for others too. Thanks for joining the conversation, Jeanne.

  3. March 17, 2016, 7:58 am   /  Reply

    I can see the point, but there is something of a cheapening of the word ‘suffering’ in Dr. Flanagan’s definition. Something that can be more easily borne by being present in its truth and moment is more on the order of ‘discomfort’, or ‘an unpleasant interlude’.

    True suffering is something I have seen, and wish never to see again. It is a physical anguish that engenders a mental one. It doesn’t even come close to admitting a definition like “a resistance to what is”.

    It’s a now in which being present is merely compelled. There is no saving virtue here, merely a profaning of what we hold dear. There is nothing to learn, no gift borne by pain. It’s just pain, and the hopeless anguish that knows that it can’t be ended save one way.

    True suffering is an obscenity. And it can demand the only mercy possible, the severest of graces.

    • March 17, 2016, 10:30 am   /  Reply

      Andrew: I would never argue that you’ve seen true suffering. Never.
      But I also think there are forms of suffering — of loss — that should not be discounted. Grief that rends the heart and soul that don’t happen in battle that still count as warfare. Losses pile up. Years are lost. Dreams are lost. We are lost. And resistance to what is because we want something different — we want people in our life to be different — creates that suffering.

      • March 24, 2016, 12:36 pm   /  Reply

        This topic has generated a lot of thought! Today I have learned that suffering can be subtle…like a thief…and steal your present joy. It can be secretive…( longing for things that will never be, longing for the way things used to be or longing for someone or something that belongs to someone else). I am so thankful for the awareness that your post has given me. What a deep subject suffering is! Suffering is both literal and figurative pain.

        • March 25, 2016, 12:09 am   /  Reply

          Michelle: I’m sorry for the delay in responding to your comment — I was traveling back from Seattle. You shared some keen insights on suffering. How it can be subtle and how it can steal our present joy. And yes, suffering is a deep, deep subject that we often have to revisit.

      • March 24, 2016, 12:39 pm   /  Reply

        This topic has generated a lot of thought! Today I have learned that suffering can be subtle…like a thief…and steal your present joy. It can also be secretive…( longing for things that will never be, longing for the way things used to be or longing for someone or something that belongs to someone else). I am so thankful for the awareness that your post has given me. What a deep subject suffering is! Suffering is both literal and figurative pain.

  4. Belinda Morrow-King
    March 17, 2016, 8:32 am   /  Reply

    My bones, especially my spine, are dissolving. For almost ten years I have endured as I lost the ability to stand for any length of time, exercise, and finally to even walk short distances. After seeking and receiving every possible treatment I submitted to two surgeries spanning three years. Now I have four rods and more than 30 screws stabilizing my spine. Suffering caused by resistance? No, I protest. Please more precisely define the type of suffering you are writing about.

    • March 17, 2016, 10:41 am   /  Reply

      Belinda:
      I appreciate you speaking up today. My comments in no way overlook or discount your suffering, which I cannot begin to imagine. You are a very brave woman and have suffered much. The suffering cause by resistance is the wanting something other than what we have. Resisting reality because life isn’t the way we want it. We want something else. Something more. Something different. We want change. People to change … or circumstances. We aren’t present NOW because we are rushing ahead … and that creates discontent. And that steals from us. Please understand that even as I write this, I’m wrestling with what God is teaching me and has taught me. I’ve had difficult relationships that I’ve wrestled with … I wanted something different from them. And I’ve suffered over what was and what could be … and never faced the reality of what is. Just let it — the relationships — be what it is. Imperfect. Both the people and me, too. I’m accepting those relationships as they are now … and the emotional anguish is less. Another thought: I, too, deal with some chronic health issues — though not as severe as yours. The question is: am I going to be present as my life is now or choose to be discontent (suffer) by wanting something else? Rushing ahead and missing my (imperfect) life now — and how God is going to show up in it?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

*