An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘suffering’

Suffering–But Not in Silence

Suffering—But Not in Silence

If, as many Mormons believe, adversity is the way God teaches us important lessons, my family has enjoyed a fine education. And I do mean enjoyed. For members of my family, suffering is the food of life, meant to be generously shared. Grandma Grypemor probably started it. My childhood memories of Grandma include listening to how poor Uncle Ranch had married a barren woman who not only failed to provide offspring, but refused to live anywhere near Grandma. And then Aunt Loosy married a guy who expected her to leave her widowed mother and live with him. A bachelor neighbor who threw wild parties on Saturday nights gifted Grandma with much suffering. She returned the favor to a couple of his departing guests who staggered to her door one night asking her to call a cab for them. Grandma poked a shotgun in their faces and they beat a hasty retreat grumbling, “That crazy old woman’s going to shoot us!”

Suffering skipped my parents’ generation, but landed full force on our youngest son. Techie suffered dreadfully from growing up with three older sisters and neglectful parents. I felt sorry for him until he went on stage to reveal our family secrets. And no, I didn’t encourage his sisters to tie him to a tree in the backyard after school and leave him until I got home. And, by the way, all of our children were born in wedlock. And yes, I’m really glad I’m not personally acquainted with the sort of people who attend Open Mic Nights.

Probably the best sufferer in my family is my cousin Reuben. When Reuben’s wife left him for a new bedfellow, Reuben decided suicide was the only remedy for his pain. He backed his pick-up truck and camper into the barn out of sight, crawled into the camper, shut the doors and windows, turned on the propane and lay on the bunk—ready for the end. Either the propane was weak or the camper wasn’t airtight, because Reuben finally got tired of waiting. He struggled to his feet to check the time. Since the camper inside the barn was pretty dark, he struck a match to look at the clock. At that moment Reuben learned that no matter how painful a life situation is, it can always get worse. If marital infidelity isn’t causing enough pain, add third degree burns and a burned-down barn into the equation.

I never really got the hang of enjoying suffering. Guilt detracted from the pleasure.  And for that, I blame Dr. Spock and Mother’s Day programs. Raising bed wetters should be enough suffering for anybody, but Dr. Spock upped the ante, blaming the malady onto domineering mothers. Apparently, my bossing the kids and George around was just asking for loads of laundry every morning. 

Then there were the Mothers’ Day programs at church. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think it’s worth a lousy petunia to sit through a series of talks by teens about how a panicked phone call brings a saintly mother rushing to school with gym clothes or lunch or whatever else the dumb kid forgot. The only time my kids ever listened reverently in Sacrament Meeting was on Mothers’ Day when they measured my parenting techniques against the ideal revealed from the pulpit. Other kids’ mothers didn’t say, “That’ll teach you!” when their kids forgot about a major science project until the night before it was due. Other mothers stayed up all night finishing the project for their child.

Yes, I’ve had my share of suffering, but I’m too embarrassed to brag about getting what I probably deserve.

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Ecclesiastes and the Role of Suffering

Ecclesiastes and the Role of Suffering  1/15/10

Catastrophes like the recent earthquake in Haiti raise the question: Why does God allow such suffering to occur? The Pat Robertson answer of divine retribution for wickedness or even a pact with the devil doesn’t work for thinking people. Disasters generally hit poor people hardest and available evidence fails to confirm the superior virtue of the rich.

I find the OT book of Ecclesiastes the most helpful scripture in dealing with this question. Ecclesiastes speaks to anyone who looks at the world realistically and fails to find God’s hand always in evidence. Interestingly enough, in Christian Bibles Ecclesiastes is placed right after the Book of Proverbs. The placement is curious because Ecclesiastes functions as a rebuttal to much of Proverbs. While Proverbs describes the world as it should be with just rewards for the righteous and retribution for the wicked, Ecclesiastes describes the world as it really is.

 The King James Version (KJV) of Ecclesiastes begins with the phrase “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” (1:2) The New Jewish Publication Society (NJPS) translates the Hebrew word “hevel” as “futility” rather  than vanity. Even with an eternal perspective, realizing how temporary our earthly existence is and how little impact we leave on the world sometimes strikes our souls with the dread that “all is futility.”

 I love the concept that a kind Heavenly Father watches over us all, hears and answers our prayers, and gives us what is good for us provided we have the requisite faith (Moro 7:26). Unfortunately, the longer I live, the more evidence I see that it is the author of Ecclesiastes rather than Moroni who accurately describes the world and God’s dealings with it.

Can anyone watch the daily news and not relate to the stark honesty of Eccl. 4:1 which speculates that not being born might be a happier situation than witnessing, “…all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their comforter there was power: but they had no comforter.” (KJV)

Life’s unfairness is noted in Eccl.9:11: “I have further observed under the sun that/The race is not won by the swift,/Nor the battle by the valiant/ Nor is bread won by the wise/ Nor wealth by the intelligent/ Nor favor by the learned/ For the time of mischance (death) comes to all.” (NJPS)

On a positive note, Ecclesiastes recommends acting with faith although we can’t know what the future holds.  “Sow your seed in the morning, and don’t hold back your hand in the evening, since you don’t know which is going to succeed (11:6 NJPS).  The author tells us to exercise charity, not because we can expect a reward in heaven, but because it is right and because we may need charity in the future. “Send your bread forth upon the waters; for after many days you will find it. . . . for you cannot know what misfortune may occur on earth.” (11:1-2 NJPS)

The message of Ecclesiastes is common sense rather than pie in the sky. Life is not fair. Bad things do happen to good people, and the wicked are not punished immediately for their acts. Expecting to ward off pain and suffering by an accumulation of good works is as rational as a gambler’s belief that the odds are building up in his favor with each unlucky roll of the dice. We can’t know for certain that an eternal reward awaits us. But we can enjoy the good things of this life, express gratitude for them, help others, and deal with unjust misfortunes to the best of our ability.

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