Monday, October 1, 2018

Is there a good side to life’s challenges and hardships? The Christian life believes so, and that is Christianity’s good news.

No one in the right frame of mind will seek difficulty for its own sake.  Unless one has some form of masochistic streak, it is very normal for one to avoid pain, anxieties and general badness in life.  For the most part, human beings long for and seek a life that has as little strife and hardships as possible, and this isn’t bad in itself. However, there is also a need to acknowledge two realities – firstly, that a life that is aimed at having as little strife and resistance as possible will only make one a very weakened form of one’s fullest potential.  Philosopher Charles Taylor coined the term ‘the buffered self’ to describe how moderns (that’s a term referring to people living in the present era) are only interested in the empirical and scientifically provable, and have denied the existence of the transcendent and supernatural.  

When one is a ‘buffered self’, it is also most likely that one will also seek to live a life that pushes from one as far as possible any and all forms of suffering.  It will be the ‘happiness principle’ or the ‘pleasure principle’ that moves and motivates one to choose the options open to oneself, and oftentimes, this results in one having some sort of crisis or meltdown when things are not turning up roses in life.  

The other reality that we need to acknowledge is this – that no one human being is exempt from encountering pain, suffering and affliction.  No one, not even the one who was conceived without original sin, had a pass when it came to suffering and sorrow.  We see this clearly in the Gospels when Mary met Simeon at the Temple, when she brought Jesus to the Temple eight days after he was born, and this elderly holy man prophesied how a sword would pierce Mary’s heart.  Catholics believe that Mary was conceived sinless.  That this sinless human being was not spared suffering and pain is clear indication that suffering and affliction are a part of our human DNA.  

If this is so, then it has to beg the question of how one should be facing these challenges and hardships that are an inevitable part of life.  The reality is that we do not have all that many options available to us.  

We could just take the easiest and perhaps most common option, which is to run away from them.  Variations of running away can be in distractions, amusements and even addictions.  These may have the ability to temporarily cause us to forget the pains and afflictions that we are facing.  But we know that once the dazzling lights, throbbing music, and the drunken stupor wear off, one cannot but be forced to face the reality that one faces, with the problems very much unchanged and unaffected.

A second option is the ‘blame’ option, where we erroneously believe that someone outside of ourselves is the cause of our strife and sadness in life.  This often results in one harbouring a deep sense of hostility and ill will in us.  We can end up having a lot of self-righteousness in us because we have exonerated ourselves from any contribution that we may have made to have this suffering in our lives.  A further harm that this does is that it can easily foster a breaking down of the community because the blamer won’t often keep this contempt and animosity to himself, but will find himself telling others about this.  It really does make the phrase ‘misery loves company’ come to life, albeit in a bad way.

There is one option that Christians ought to always bear in mind when faced with struggles such as suffering and other forms of badness in life.  This will entail one to believe that there is a good side to such badness. 

To come to this belief, it is first of all necessary to believe that we do not have exclusive ownership of our lives, our resources, and our time.  When we think that we have exclusive ownership of our lives, we easily end up shutting ourselves in the narrow confines of our programs, plans and our thinking.  If we are open to believing that our lives are not our own, we get out of a narrow-mindedness that entraps so many of us.  

The Christian needs to be brave and courageous to enter into God’s wisdom, which is a life that is much more beautiful and fruitful than a life that we have absolute control over.  

Mature Christian living will always invite one to live with a sense of abandonment to a plan that is higher that one can imagine, and this could well include living a life that has may challenges and trials.  Many find themselves only asking God “why?” when we are faced with things like disappointments, failures, cancer prognoses and betrayals, and don’t make it to the next but more important question.

What is this question?  It is this – “God, how do you want me to grow and be strengthened and reach a greater level of maturity through this trial I am facing?”  Another question would be “God, how are you asking me to purify my love for you through this challenge I am currently facing?”  Only when we dare to ask these deeper and more loving questions will we see that badness does have a good side to it.  

1 comment:

  1. When I kept my doctor’s appointment last week, I was appalled that for the drug he recommended for my treatment he had half a dozen other drugs to offset the side effects! He seemed non-plussed why I was adamant not to accept them. It would seem we have arrived at the Age of having a panacea for all ills. This came to mind when I read your blog especially you said that in times of challenges and distress one opts for ways out......and the world has devised many ! But if we do so we would be doing exactly what St Paul advised us against -“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by ......” (Rom12:2)

    I have been thinking that in times of pain and suffering perhaps we need to revisit our Faith in simplicity. For example, in preparing for my Friday session on Hebrews last week, I was struck afresh by these words in ( Heb 11:6)- “those who come to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him...”. The Scripture stories of iour childhood also encouraged us to fight to keep our faith and to see tribulations, pain and suffering as opportunities to grow and mature in faith . In our problems or calamities instead of running away in fear and despair, we should therefore flee to Him to be imbued with His power and grace.

    I guess in doing so, I’m also trying to “engineer” more Encounters with the living God and hopefully, in time, this will help to keep one more single-minded in pursuit of God just as Christ is in His relationship with his Father. Could this be a simpler way to holiness ?
    Simpler but not necessarily easier.

    God bless you, Fr