I heard a pastor describe life as the movement from suffering to sorrow to joy. His reference point was the Easter weekend : the suffering of Good Friday as Jesus is crucified to the sorrow of Saturday with his death and the seeming loss of so much, to the joy of Easter Sunday and his resurrection. As I thought about it I realized how much the same processes, the same progression plays out in my life.
Life is hard and much is suffering. Sometimes the suffering can be reduced or eliminated. Sometimes that is not clearly so. I know many people who experience life, or parts of life, as crucifixion. They see it as pain massively applied with no clear way out or promise of cessation. Often they see themselves as having little access to life sustaining activities. They have little contact with others that make life better. Not much seems to make life meaningful. They experience themselves as impotent in many ways to make life different. Life is about getting what you dont want or need and getting it rather you need it or want it or not. At its most extreme life is about dying and the only real question is when you do.
Most people have been there or stay there to one degree or another. I know I have. I have seen life as a collection of bad things that never leave or go away. For me it is fruitless to tell me that life really isn’t hard. I know different. It is not simply a matter of trying hard or having a different attitude although both of those things have a value of a place. Life is hard, it has suffering regardless of what I do. While it is certainly true there is much I can do about things, it is, at least for me, equally true there is much I can do nothing about. For me the key is not to believe bad things are not real. It is to know that regardless of how bad they are they need not be all things.
When suffering rules you don’t know surprises. It is not safe. You need to know where the next blow, the next danger is coming from. And you miss good things in the process of vigilance. To protect yourself from life’s wrecks you miss it’s traffic. Good things don’t seem as vital, as substantial, as impactful and when that is the truth of your life you miss much of what matters.
I know I have been there. I have known what it is like to view hope as empty and but a cruel deceit. Most people I know have been there. Sometimes we see hope as mere wishfulness and a foolish place to put our energy. For me finding better living has been in the faith there is better living and that pain and suffering and misery are not the only truth.
Sorrow I think has something to do with what we believe the suffering has meant. It is a tallying of the losses and the grieving of those losses. It is soul rendering and terrifying. It is about the things no longer true, the things that can no longer be true and the seeming impossibility of going on without them.
I have known grief and loss. At times I have wondered if I am ever to know anything else. Much of life recently has seemed that way to me. Much has been about what is no longer availible or what can no longer be done.
Again all of us have known grief and loss. All of us know what it feels like to be stuck in a pain we don’t want, in a place that seems to be the only place. For me it does no good for someone to tell me not to feel sad. That only tells me they don’t know how bad I feel. What has helped us to know that it is okay to hurt, it is okay to grieve. At times it may be all we can do. It is a way of protecting ourselves against catastrophe. But also to know that it is possible to move past, that time is not frozen or locked and that not all time will be this time.
I am not sure you can ever really know joy without knowing grief. Joy is about the confirmation of opportunity in life. It is a testimony to the fact that pain and suffering are not inevitable nor are they the only truth. We are resilient creatures and have the ability to find new life, new birth. Joy is the celebration of that birth and I have known that joy. It does not mean pain is not real or grief is sometimes overwhelming. It means that in the midst of those things we can find other times and build and nurture them to fuller growth and flower.
I believe life is not just one thing and that those who plan endless suffering or endless glory are both wrong. It is suffering. It is sorrow. But it is also joy. Life is a miracle, but it is a miracle that must be redone each day.
And it is a miracle worth the effort.