There’s been some good discussions going on about suffering and it’s probably an issue we can’t explore enough. I’ve spoken before about how 97% of our own suffering is self-inflicted and primarily related to pride. That sticks in my craw too which is why I’ve posted this gratuitous picture of Jack Sparrow for comfort.
That 97% is simply a made up number to account for the fact that sometimes we are simply the bug on someone else’s windshield, a house falls on our head, or a tragedy strikes that is too painful for us to cope with. That is the 3%. I don’t wish to assign blame here, but simply to point out that we do have an incredible amount of control over how much we are going to suffer in the vast majority of circumstances.
It is not that we are to blame or that it is our fault or that we make bad things happen to ourselves. We have to take suffering outside the paradigm of victims and perpetrators, predators and prey, fault and blame. Suffering is an emotional response to our circumstances, something we often actually choose to experience. Most of us simply act on instinct and do not analyze our emotions or our responses, but when we take things apart, we can see that even our grief is a response to our love, it is a way we pay tribute to those we have lost and express how much they meant to us. Grief is a valuable process, it serves a vital purpose, but it is very painful. It is a form of suffering that has tremendous value, however.
In a spiritual context, pride as the cause of our own suffering is a huge problem. Pride and shame tend to go hand in hand, they are flip sides of the same coin. Most of the emotions that plague us, anger, frustration, bitterness, unforgiveness, stem from pride. I call it “too much of us, not enough of Him.” Pride in this context is not simply feeling good about yourself or setting boundaries or having as sense of self, it is our ego, and it often rises up like scar tissue around shame. That is the biggest problem with pride, it tends to mask off shame and shame is painful.
Shame is something that will stick with you until you have addressed it and it is a toxic thing indeed. It will eat away at you. It can appear either arrogant or shy and withdrawn, but it usually stems from pride. That is one reason why we ask for forgiveness of sins and we lay our pride and shame down at the foot of the cross. Shame is one of those things that will often stick around until it has taught you what you need to know.
Something else about pride, often it comes into being not from thinking too highly of yourself, but from being beat down one too many times. It can be a defense mechanism, a way of protecting ourselves. That is so important to remember, pride often masks wounding.
Humility is a state of having let go of pride. There is no shame in humility, because there is no pride to prick, no shame to trigger. Humility cannot take offense. This is one reason why Christians often speak of surrendering all, of submission, of dying to self, our will versus His will. Pride tends to cause needless suffering.
Captain Jack Sparrow has it right, “the problem is not the problem, your attitude about the problem is the problem.” Most of us are not saints in the sense that we have mastered these concepts fully and can now rejoice and sing ourselves right through the valley of the shadow of death, but the ideas themselves are sound, the principles are tried and true.
The Western world has really lost our way when it comes to understanding the nature of suffering, some of it being vital and necessary to our well-being and much-needed for our spiritual growth, and some that is simply a part of the human experience. There can be beauty even in our own suffering.