Well-Designed Suffering

After the massacre in Broward County, Florida at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, our community spent a Saturday evening sitting in our suffering.  We were all heartbroken. We have teachers in our midst and they felt afraid; parents of children in schools felt afraid too. Others felt despair; some felt angry.  A few people have wandered into my office and asked me why such a bad thing happened to such good kids. One person has chosen to leave church altogether, having come to believe that God LET this happen.  



One of the many thoughts I have as I sit with my friends and we talk about this tragedy is regret.  I regret that in addition to all the other problems we have in our world today, we continue to fail at teaching and learning how to suffer. I think there are ways to suffer that are productive, and ways to suffer that are counter-productive.  Please do not confuse this with managing feelings or telling someone what they should think during crisis.


But I am calling us out and asking that we begin to slow our roll.  Pause to prepare. Think carefully about our response to tragedy and loss.  It is too easy to try to channel our big emotions into blame or fear-mongering.  This is unproductive. The world has ALWAYS been a scary place. But we are not making progress by protecting ourselves from our profound distress by getting mad and lashing out at others.  This is unproductive. It short-circuits the moment. This is a time to reflect on our part and what we can actually DO to improve the world in which we live.


In my own suffering in recent years, I found plenty to opportunity to blame others.  I ruminated and tried to make sense of the events that revealed the chasms in my family of origin’s relationships.  I was sorry I hadn’t seen the real state of things earlier, detached sooner, been more honest about the fragility of our relationships.  But I also learned some things about suffering.


I learned that trying to make sense of others’ actions is sometimes a waste of time.  Ruminating is a sure-fire way to end up depressed and even physically ill. The best thing that has come out of my crushing disappointment in my family situation is that I have indeed learned a few things about productive suffering.  Thing one: Beware of being so focused on the people that do not want relationship with you that you forget to focus on all the people who care deeply about you. My friend Suzanne Stabile has a story about herself that she tells when she describes herself as “chasing the one.”  In other words, in a room full of people, she notices the one person who seems displeased and disinterested in her. She has at times had a tendency to chase after the one rather than notice the crowd of folks who deeply appreciate not only her work, but her presence. I’m done chasing.  I’m looking around and seeing plenty to say grace over. I’ve got 2 grandchildren, 3 bio kids, 2 kids via marriage, family and friends who teach me that they care about our relationships. This is a good life; no need to chase anyone; nothing is lacking. How about you? Who can you pay more attention to?