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Monday, January 12, 2009

Embracing Suffering

I received an email today that referenced someone "living with leukemia".

That terminology has bothered me for a long time; "living with HIV" or "living with alcoholism" or "living with Hodgkin's Disease".

Yes, it's important to be positive when dealing with a serious illness, so in no way do I ever want to denigrate what others are experiencing. And I know that at any time, I could myself be struck by something terrible.

But today, in that email, I realized what is so bothersome to me with regard to the words being used; it's a denial of the very real suffering being experienced not only by that person, but by those who love them. It is "politically correct" to use the term "living with" as opposed to "suffering from", and therin is the problem.

We live in a society that wants to escape suffering. Indeed, we all want to escape suffering, but this systematic form of escape through the rhetoric of political correctness does nothing to truly aid those who have been struck by disease.

Yes, they are living, and they are coping, and they are getting by; but they are greatly suffering. And as long as we ignore the fact of their very REAL suffering, then we are also denying them, and ourselves an opportunity to address our greatest questions to the Savior who also suffered.

Christ Himself dignified our suffering through what He endured. Who are we to deny it when it happens to us?

That's not to say we should not take advantage of science, for there are treatments, there are pain medications, there are cures. And we need to pursue those things, but not in order to live in denial; rather to embrace what we are experiencing and offer that back to Our Lord.

It seems to me that when we are overly positive with regard to the awful things that happen to us, it becomes a form of denial of what it really is. What is closer to reality? That someone is "living with" leukemia, or that someone is "suffering from" leukemia?

In fact, both are accurate, but "suffering from " is MORE accurate, for one who is not living cannot suffer. And when we approach our friends who have this or some other disease, and we have the attitude of "you're living with this disease", we are not open to what they might truly be experiencing. We are focused on being happy and joyful and living in la-la land where there is no suffering and death.

Yes, we die. We have to face that. And someone who has this or other diseases are also facing that reality, and they have to do so on their own terms. But that does not mean the topic should be avoided.

God forbid, if I ever have such a disease, that everyone treat me like a china doll that might be broken if someone happens to point out the fact that I'm mortal.

How can any one of us truly come to know ourselves or know God if we don't embrace our suffering? If we focus ONLY on "surviving" we are forgetting the end to which we are directed. We are missing an opportunity, or, if it is someone else who is suffering, we are denying them an opportunity to help them find God in their darkest moment.

We have been created for eternity, not for this world; it is important to realize what a gift God has given us by granting us life, but it is also important not to deny the suffering inherent as long as we live it.

My prayers go out to those who suffer from serious diseases; and I have this to say to you: don't let the world cheapen your experience through political correctness. If you are suffering, let those close to you know about it and don't be bullied into thinking you have to be positive all the time! Recognize what is happening to you, find God in that darkness, and invite those you love to help you with that burden, for one of them may experience it next. Do you want THEM to suffer the greater loneliness of suffering alone in a world that denies what is happening?

Maybe I have no right to speak on this, or perhaps I do, but from a different perspective. But there is one thing I have learned through my own kind of's always easier when someone else truly understands what is happening, and is willing to sit with you in that darkest hour. And it means that much more when the light of dawn arises again, giving a new perspective to your own questions and fears.

Stop denying suffering. Yes, live with it, but embrace it as well and call it what it is. If you don't, you can't ever truly accept it.


Melody K said...

Thanks for the reminder to not deny the reality of someone's suffering, you're right that it just makes it lonelier for them. Please pray for my brother in law, who was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia; today he has an appointment to find out what the plan of treatment is.

Adoro said...

Melody ~ He'll be in my prayers!