Yesterday I took two of my kids to the oral surgeon to get their wisdom teeth removed. The trip down was okay, the trip back, very quiet. As I drove through the last of a rainstorm which had moved through that morning, adjusting for all the construction barriers and trying to hold back useless questions, like: “Are you feeling alright?” I pondered the question of suffering once again.
I remember the surprising answer my priest offered me after a miscarriage. Instead of telling me what to do to alleviate my suffering or how to get around the pain, his first recommendation was to accept. Not exactly what I wanted to hear. But, in time, I learned the wisdom of his words.
We suffer for a lot of reasons, sometimes at the hands of others, sometimes through our own fault and sometimes, like wisdom teeth, for no apparent reason at all. But in all these cases, the suffering part of our humanity, be it our body or our spirit, is not really to blame. We may have to own up to the actions which led us to the point of grief, but simply recognizing the pain we are in is the first step to dealing with it effectively.
In my kids’ case, they knew that oral surgery would hurt, but they also knew that impacted wisdom teeth would cause worse suffering later, if they didn’t deal with it now. I knew that taking my kids to an oral surgeon would involve pain, but it was a price I was willing to pay to save them more grief later. There are a lot of times when we need to realize that suffering is inevitable and asking why or being angry is useless, actually hindering the healing process.The human body is packed full of opportunities to suffer. But that fact need not leave us hopeless. When we accept that suffering exits, that it in itself it is not evil, then we can learn the value of acceptance.
A friend, mother of two teens and diagnosed with cancer told me after she had been informed that she had only weeks to live, that “It is what it is.” In most people I would have thought this reaction one of despair or mere resignation, but after walking the road of faith through all the stages of death with her, I realized how complete Carla had become. She accepted the presence of death, she did everything she could to say her grateful goodbyes and to leave in the most loving manner possible, and she died at peace.
When my kids suffered from swollen, aching jaws, I handed them their medication, gave them the directions, and reminded them to be very careful. (I also handed them containers of ice cream and strawberry yogurt.) My teenagers have a choice, deal with what is honestly, realizing that pain will be a part of their healing, or make things worse by trying to avoid it all together. In avoidance of reality, we don’t really change reality, we usually just make things a lot worse.
This morning as I said my prayers, I remembered the cross of Christ, and though I knew I would have to face this day’s allotment of hurting kids, aching back (time to dig the potatoes) and other various sources of pain, I knew, through the love that Christ bears us, that suffering need not be wasted. It is also an opportunity to love and be loved – if only we accept it.