Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 28 July 2010
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)
MAIN POINT: Life is tough, but it should not be allowed to remain that way. Be the light to bring hope to the world.
When I was a young boy, I remember saying something that seems to get my mum’s active agreement: 做人很困难, (translation: Life is tough.) I do not know what prompted me to say that, but it certainly made my mum nod gleefully with pride, that her son is beginning to understand that life is indeed difficult. My parents have gone through tough times. They have encountered bitterness and jealousy within the family. They have been despised upon, spat on, trampled by business associates, friends, and even trusted family members. My father’s bankruptcy many years ago has also given me a taste of how tough life can become. My extended family’s constant bickering over money casts a dark shadow over the history of my various family relationships. Closer to home, the quarrels and the frequent fights that happen under the same roof have made me rather distressed over what a happy family means.
Life is tough. For a young boy who has seen fury in my father’s eyes, and bruises on my mother’s face, a tough life seems to be an understatement. Those were the years of living unhappily. It takes a brain tumor to tame my father’s temper. It takes a jolt of reality to reduce my mum’s nagging. It takes a toll on me as well, as a young teenager of not knowing what a happy family looks like.
This past week, I have been reminded of those troubling teenage years again. The mails that I have received tell me that this world is not well. One faces communication problems with parents. Another is a widower in his 20s who lost his wife recently. He has to raise his young son all on his own. He felt lost. I ask myself, is life for me tougher than this young man? Why must such pain and suffering afflict a promising young life just starting a new family? Frankly, I am left helpless about what to say to this man. I can only pray, and that is exactly what I did.
A) How Paul Toughs It Out
The Apostle Paul is no stranger to suffering. After a time of persecuting Christians, the moment he embraces Christ, Saul the persecutor becomes Paul the persecuted. In the second letter to the Corinthians, the persecutions that Paul experience is nothing compared to the disunity that is occurring in the Churches at Corinth. False teachings have permeated the church so much that Paul feels grieved inside. He knows that such false teachings will lead people astray. One such teaching is the peddling of the Word of God for profit (2 Cor 2:17). He then details how authentic Christian ministry looks like. Paul serves Christ willingly. His focus is so fixated on Jesus that no amount of hardships can crush him. No amount of perplexity can bring despair. No amount of persecution can render him feeling abandoned. Afflictions can strike him, but will never destroy him. This is how Paul toughs it out. Not on his own strength, but by focusing on Christ.
During my teenage years, I have not come to follow Jesus. The way I tough it out is to repeat the mantra: “When the going gets tough, the tough gets going.” It is like saying the problems will resolve by themselves. So why worry? I am surprised myself how I got through those years. Sometimes I wonder how my life will look like if I had followed Christ. Maybe, life is not necessarily easier. It might even be tougher.
B) For Helpers: Three Things to Note
Pain and suffering is something that has baffled many people. One group of people I turn to is the Jews. There is no other suffering that is equivalent to the Holocaust where millions of Jews were persecuted and gassed to death. I am encouraged by the thoughts of Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Out of his reflection on pain and suffering, let me highlight 3 pieces of wisdom I learned. Firstly, those of us who are NOT going through the same pain, should NOT try to explain the suffering. In fact, suffering can never be discussed on a rational manner without it insulting the sufferer. From my research on pain and suffering, it is clear that those who try to explain away suffering can dangerously resemble the unhelpful friends of Job, who not only gave advice, they provided bad advice.
“One must take great care in discussing pain and suffering. . By recognizing that emotional , spiritual, or psychological pain is real, and that no amount of talk can truly relieve it. ” (Simon Jacobson, Toward a Meaningful Life, SF: HarperCollins, 2002, p126-7)
Secondly, understand that the pain can potentially cloud the sufferer’s normal sense of judgment and rationale. Anyone approaching those in pain, ought to give space and grace for that person to express his or her frustrations. Schneerson says:
“Any emotion clouds our rationale, and when it is as powerful as pain, it can consume us, distorting the way we look at ourselves and the world.” (p127)Knowing that the one experiencing suffering is not able to behave in his normal self does not mean that we are to go and assume we have the right to ‘correct’ him/her. Sometimes we may even need to ask for permission even before we can talk. Pray and seek God. Most importantly, pray for this grieving person(s).
Thirdly, the one suffering undergoes several temptations. They are inclined to challenge God. In their deepest anguish, they may even turn away from God. The Rabbi's advice to the sufferer:
“Perhaps you have been tempted at some point to resign yourself to your pain, to give up your spirit. Your pain may even lead you to turn away from God. But turning away from God means turning away from the very answer to your pain and suffering, thus allowing the pain to victimize you. (italics mine)” (p127)
For those of us wanting to help, make sure that we keep a healthy distance with the sufferer. Even as we give them space to grieve, recognize that they too are vulnerable. We need to discern how we can defend and protect them if necessary. Keep a distance, but do not stay too far away that you cannot catch them when they fall.
C) Concluding Thoughts
This has been a tough issue for me to write. It brings me back to my checkered past. It reminds me of the struggling young widower. It also brings to mind people I care for, who are going through really tough times. Life is tough, but it needs not remain that way. There is Someone tougher than the world’s toughest obstacle. There is Someone who is taller than the tallest challenges. There is Someone who is able to comfort anyone. Let me close with a story.
A Holocaust survivor was not able to carry on life in his teaching profession. He feels helpless and useless. There is too much pain and suffering that he cannot forget. He was given this advice:
“There are no words to console you, but you cannot allow the Holocaust to continue in your life. We are day workers, and our task is to shed light. We need not expend our energies in battling darkness. We need only create day, and night will fade away.” (133)
What a word of wisdom! This reminds me of 2 rooms with a door in the middle separating them. One room is dark, while the other room is brightly lit. When the door is opened, will the darkness from the room bring black gloom into the other? Or will the light from one room shines in onto the other? You know the answer. Light triumphs no matter what. Let us bring light to the world.
Thought: When the world says, "Give up," Hope whispers, "Try it one more time." (Anonymous)
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