Can I Avoid Suffering?

Quick question: Which of the following do you think makes you truly happy?
(This is for fun only. Your results will remain anonymous and not be shared.)

I often think that to be happy, I have to avoid suffering; I am happy only to the extent that I am not suffering. There are probably two ways I try to avoid suffering:

  • I'll acquire something that I think will make me happy. I might seek things, experiences, or status that give me a sense of satisfaction.
  • I'll avoid things that make me unhappy. I might push things--or people--away, thinking that I will be happier without them.

The problem is that I cannot avoid suffering. "Here below, pure Love cannot exist without suffering," said St. Bernadette Soubirous. If we try to avoid suffering, we prevent ourselves from loving people in their suffering. And if we do not love people in their suffering, we cannot be compassionate. It's that simple. And that is the probably why true love remains elusive--we try to love without having to suffer. I will want to share in your joy, but I do not want to share in your pain. That is not love. Thus, as I try to avoid suffering, I cannot truly enter the loving knowledge of God, and I outside that love, I will never be truly happy.

How, then, can I be happy? How can I manage the inevitable suffering in a way that I can be happy, in a way that reflects the love of God?

By accepting who I am, as I am, where I am.

That does not mean I have no need to change. Rather, acceptance means recognizing reality as it is, being honest about where, how, and who I am in the midst of it, and then holding that reality with gentleness and kindness.

Acceptance allows me to be patient. It allows me to create the space where I can grow into my true self--that is, the person who God imagines me to be, and who the world needs me to be.

I cannot avoid suffering. I can, however, be compassionate, and it is through compassion that suffering can be transformed.

Black-capped chickadee, Burnidge Forest Preserce, Elgin, IL.

Black-capped chickadee, Burnidge Forest Preserce, Elgin, IL.