There are two kinds of suffering, the physical kind that attends us through pain or illness and the emotional/spiritual kind. I do not think the source of the suffering matters that much; I think what we make of it is what transforms us.
I have a friend, Bea, who is in the midst of a cycle of suffering that many would find intolerable. What completely amazes and inspires me is her incredible faith in the midst of it all. She has what could be characterized as a "difficult" marriage. They have had a lot of challenges over the years but have chosen to work through them to keep their vows to each other. She is so sweet in her approach to her marriage, often asking herself, "Will this make my husband happy?," and then rejecting immediately any course of action to which that answer is either "I'm not sure" or "no." This sacrifice, this approach to partnership, is almost unheard of today. We are such a self-centered society; few of us would lay down our ego in this way.
Once I was speaking to her about the stressors in her family and we had a life-changing conversation. She said that she had scoffed at someone who stated that her family "was under spiritual attack." Within weeks, Bea found herself in the midst of such an attack and the choices she made in that brief period would rewrite the course of her marriage for many years to come. She said this, not as a way to bring sympathy to her plight, but in the tenderest and humblest way; she took on the suffering that resulted form that period as a kind of atonement.
I can imagine that people reading this are thinking now, that I have lost my marbles.! Are you thinking that I am advocating oppressive or abusive marriages in which an individual has no right to happiness or healthy or well being? Rest assured, I am not suggesting that anyone stay in an abusive situation. I am, however, pondering for myself the value of re-purposing the marriage relationship. What is possible if I am not so often putting my own happiness -- or what I think will make me happy -- at the forefront?
I am inspired by Bea because she has chosen to put her husband's happiness a the center of her life and choices and in so doing, has embraced suffering. That is an incredibly hard thing to do! She has given up relationships, turned away careers, sacrificed time with friends, chosen humility over "being right," and bitten her tongue -- all because doing so protected the sanctity of her marriage. She has truly -- and rarely, in my opinion -- embraced a different kind of marriage relationship, one that I have written about before. That is an inspiring lifestyle choice. Moreover, it is a transformative choice because it has ripened her into a person who truly knows what it is to love and to put oneself under discipline.
I do not know if I possess the steel will required to transform my life in like manner. What if I weren't so selfish? What if, instead of working so hard to avoid suffering, I embraced it? What if I were really able -- and willing -- more of the time to put another's needs before my own? It is an enticing experiment.
It's food for thought. I am so very grateful for the gift of Bea in my life; she is truly teaching me to be.
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