Reminders: “Pain is Inevitable; Suffering is Optional” (the Dali Lama)

Reminders: "Pain is Inevitable; Suffering is Optional" (the Dali Lama)

by Ardith Hoff

If we touch a hot stove, it’s going to hurt.  If someone we love leaves us, or dies, it’s going to hurt.  We know what pain is!  We are not as familiar with what suffering is.  Suffering is what happens as a result of pain.  Suffering is generally thought of as a negative response.

We hear that plaintiffs in court cases are sometimes awarded punitive damages for both pain and suffering.  But suffering can be either positive or negative depending how we respond to pain.  If someone hurts our feelings by pointing out one of our flaws, we can either thank them for pointing out something we might be able to correct, or we can get defensive and react out in anger.  We may learn something valuable and do something about it, or we can allow ourselves to act inappropriately, and live with the consequences.  Either way we have allowed what takes place.

When Jesus said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me…” He meant to allow, the children to come to Him.  He went on to say, “…for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” meaning that children are innocent and eager to learn.  He was telling us that we should be more like children.  We don’t often hear the word “suffer” used that way, but it is appropriate.

For example, parents might allow themselves to make sacrifices in order to help their children have a better life.  They allow themselves to experience the pain of not having everything they might want, but it is pain for a good purpose.  Suffering (allowing themselves to make sacrifices) for their children’s future is a positive form of suffering.  If, on the other hand, they decide not to allow themselves to sacrifice, they may suffer negatively by watching their children struggle through life. 

Suffering is either a positive or negative consequence of how we respond to pain.  We have options as to how we will respond.  “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Romans 2:3-4   Paul is telling us to allow positive results to come from pain.