I Am Learning…Thank God for Suffering

Suffering is an amazing teacher. As of late, it has been teaching me many things and I find myself extremely grateful for this latest range of lessons.

On my last blog post, I stated that I was being taught another lesson and I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be going through ye ole school of suffering once again. But I can truly say today that the lesson was more than worth the price that I had to pay in order to grasp what suffering was endeavoring to teach me.

One of the most painful things about the lesson was its longevity. It seemed as if that particular lesson was going on ad infinitum and I was going to be stuck and miserable for a very long time and my patience quota was quite low at the time. What I hadn’t known ┬átime during this time was that the very length of time that I suffered had unknowingly been building within me a reserve of strength and patience that I had been lacking for quite a while.

For, you see, CFS has robbed me of so much. It has encaged me withing a prison. First, a prison within my body, then a prison within my mind, and through it all, a prison within my circumstances as it stole my acquaintances and ability to get out of the house and I have become a hermit. Other than prayer and church, my room is my world…and that world had become stagnant and stifling…and that was the suffering that I had been grappling with for quite some time now. I had been feeling as though my “world” was never going to change and I would be the victim of circumstance forever.

But the most amazing thing began to happen. Through prayer and Bible study, I began to take my mind off of my circumstances and instead placed my thoughts on the faithfulness of God and His great love for me, knowing that everything was going to be all right in the end. And that I was MORE than my circumstance and body dictated to my mind. (The major components of my illness are now gone thanks to a miracle of God, but I still have to contend with a certain lack of strength in my body because of the years of being unable to use my body. That is a bit disconcerting, to say the least. But I am working on that. Another lesson for me. Ugh.)

For such a long time, I had believed that if only my circumstances were changed, I would then be happy. God, however, had different plans. He did not change my circumstances. Instead, He changed ME. Because of the fires of suffering brought to the surface defects of selfishness that had become ingranined in my character. All I had been thinking about for such a long time was me…what I was going through, what I was feeling, wondering how long I was going to have to suffer, wondering when my circumstances were ever going to change. It was all me, me, me…and I did not like that realization one bit when it was brought to light because I had always been one who had put others first. Yet, here I was only thinking about me, me, me.

So, I began to deal with me. I challeneged the thoughts that I was the only one suffering in the world. I challenged the belief that I no longer had anything to contribute to this world. And I began praying again for others and seeking ways that I could help them, for I have always believed that the best way to help yourself is to give yourself to others. Oh, how I had been misssing that part of me!

I thank God for the “prison” that I am in. Because that prison is being turned into a palace. I am no longer praying to be delivered from my circumstances, for those circumstances are teaching me valuable lessons that I could not have learned any other way. Instead, I am praying for grace and strength to endure…and that endurace is producing bucketloads of patience within me and I am waking up each morning with an attitude of gratitude instead of dreading yet another day upon the earth. And that is an amazing thing to experience and see.

Suffering is making me a new person. It is making me a better person and no longer a bitter one. And for that, I have to say…THANK YOU!


Another Lesson

Suffering is teaching me another lesson. I must admit that I am not exactly thrilled by its intrusion in my life again. I had believed that I had learned its lessons well, but have come to realize that suffering is not a subject that one masters. Instead, one is ever-learning and ever-growing in its graces.

I find that the more I resist suffering, the tighter its grip becomes. But if I lean into it and begin to embrace what it is endeavoring to teach me, that it loosens its hold on me for a while and I am able to breathe again. At present, because of the depths of suffering I am experiencing, those breaths are a bit shallow…but I am beginning to breathe easier.

On the one hand, suffering is an intruder. It comes unbidden into one’s life at inopportune times and oftentimes leaves one fatigued and confused by its intrusion. On the other hand, suffering is also a gentle teacher that will not force its lessons upon the unwilling heart until it is bidden to do so. I am both a willing and unwilling participant in this newest class experience. I am weakened and strengthened by the seemingly constant resistance-giving in process that I am going through. I want this lesson to be over. Yet, I am intrigued by what is happening in my inner man as I resolve to grapple with and overcome suffering once and for all.

One of the hardest things to do when one is suffefring is to take one’s gaze away from the suffering itself. But it is when we are able do just that that the true meaning of suffering begins to take on a whole new meaninging itself. It is then that the “gentle teacher” comes forth to whisper its latest lesson and we are able to advance to a higher plane of existence. And on that plane is rest. Rest for the mind and spirit.

Suffering is stretching me. The unwilling participant in me is engaged in a dance of struggle against this force that seems bent on twisting me into an unrecognizable shape. But the willing student is also present at this lesson and knows that soon, very soon, I will be able to appreciate this experience and will have something more to add to my tools of life. Suffering is a tool maker and a soul shaker. It is shaking me and making me a better me than I used to be.

I will be so glad when this lesson is over. More stretching. Breathe, Cassie, breathe.

Suffering’s Lesson #2-Suffering is Not Fun

As I stated before, suffering is one of life’s greatest teachers. The subjects taught and the lessons learned are tailored to each individual student of life. No two people will arrive at suffering’s ultimate destination in the same way or through the same methods, although suffering is universal and we experience similar hardships and difficulties.

I do not want it known that I arrived at all of suffering’s lessonpoints with great glee and satisfaction. For, in truth, many times along this journey of suffering, I have gone with reluctance, impatience, and highly pissed off.

I want it known that the joy and peace that I now experience did not come overnight, nor did some bolt of lightning or earth-shattering event occur that awakened me out of some kind of sleep of apathy and dissatisfaction to propel me into a state of perpetual bliss. I struggled for days, months, and, yes, years with quite a few challenges. Suffering had much to teach me and I had plenty of fodder in my life for it to do its work within.

I have much empathy and understanding of those who do not embrace suffering, but rather kick at it with distaste and a great sense of anger. Of those who rail against its unfairness and seeming fickleness of its fate. I understand it all…for I have felt all of those things and more.

Being a Christian, I have been one who has had to suffer many things alone because people who love God are “not supposed to” feel anger or dissatisfaction or discouragement or fear or disillusionment. During periods of great confusion, I was simply told to “trust God.” At points of doubt and discouragement because of the traumas that I was enduring, I was told that “all things work together for good for them that love God.” Instead of peace, I was filled with guilt because during those times of suffering, I was often in too much pain to conjur up feelings of trust and many times I was angry at God for allowing suffering to assault me so many times that there were moments when I hid my face from him, though I never turned my back to Him.

Throughout my life, I have heard the phrase, “Everything is going to be okay.” I would sometimes grit my teeth in anger because, at the time, NOTHING was okay and I wondered if anything COULD be okay ever again. I was not angry because people were trying to comfort me. Rather, I was irritated that they seemed to skip over the fact that until things are okay, they are not and one needs comfort in those dark periods. Because they often do not have the strength or the will to wait until okay comes. Because, sometimes, the space in between “going to be okay” and “okay” is a hell of a long time and the space is often cold and dark. I have spent my life sitting in that dark place in between others’ “okays,” holding their hand and bringing some light and encouragement.

Suffering hurts. There is no doubt about it. But there is also no doubt that it produces champions, sets captives free, and teaches one how to live a rich and a full life.

As I write this blog and my book, I am going to present the many faces of suffering. I’m not going to do it Pollyanna-style, however. I am going to be real with my feelings, the lessons learned, and the often painful and challenging ways that suffering chose to teach me its truths.

I am aware that many do not want to hear that suffering has meaning and I am very well aware of why that is and indeed have shared (and still share) some of those reasons. But I am also a survivor and now live a very happy and peaceful life and it was all due to the things that I have suffered. I will spend the rest of my life showing to others what suffering has meant to me…and one day…others will add their voices to mine and we will all sit around laughing our heads off because we now know that what does not kill us really does make us stronger.

Suffering Lesson #1: It is Okay to Feel

So often, we avoid feelings. Especially those of the negative kind. One of the first lessons that suffering has taught me is that it is not only okay to feel, but it is also necessary. Necessary for healing. Necessary for growth. And our feelings are also an indicator of where we are at any given point along this road that we travel called life.

I spent the afternoon riding along with my sister and broinlaw as they took care of some needed business. Along the journey, we passed through many neighborhoods and traveled quite a few of the same roads that my husband and I rode along together. It was a pleasant ride, but a painful trip because I saw constant reminders of what we had been to each other in the past and made note of a lot of the places where we had gone and things we had done. My heart hurt because I could almost feel my husband’s presence beside me in the car and I’d wanted so badly to reach out and put my hand upon his thigh as I had done thousands of times before in times past. But I could not do that…because he was not there.

Alongside the pain, there was pleasure as I reminisced on the countless journeys that we travelled together. The fun we had in the car as we talked and sang along to music and drove to certain points simply because I was curious about where those points led. I both missed my husband and celebrated his being a part of my life during the best period of my life.

I was grateful for the feelings that I experienced this afternoon because they let me know that I am a lot further along this path than I had previously realized. Where before, I could not remember my husband without intense pain and an almost knee-jerk reaction of avoidance, I was able to feel the pain of his loss while also smiling at his love. That marked a true milestone within me.

My feelings of pain also let me know that I am still capable of experiencing passion and love. Those did not die within me when last I saw my husband’s face and heard his voice. Until I am blessed again with a companion who will love me with the same intensity and devotion of my husband, I can utilize the passion and love that I feel in my heart to love and to give to others. And to live life with the same intensity of passion that I always had. I thought that passion had been killed by suffering. It turns out that it had only been laying dormant, waiting for the day when I would again get up and live this life once more.

I am grateful for the ability to cry and to feel. That means that I also have the same ability to laugh and to feel great joy. For me, one’s capacity to feel pain is in direct proportion to their capacity to love.

I wonder where tomorrow’s journey will take me. I am more than ready for the ride.