Finding Meaning in Our Suffering

Let us start with Shakespeare’s Macbeth, as he mourns the passing of Lady Macbeth in Act 5, Scene 5.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

To the last syllable of recorded time,

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

There is no meaning in life and therefore there is no meaning in suffering.  To live and to suffer are meaning-less. Yet, experience tells us that this kind of thinking is a dangerous illusion.  Did Martin Luther King, Jr. have no meaning when he wrote his Letter from the Birmingham jail?  Did Maximilian Kolbe see no meaning in life when he asked the Nazis to let him take the place of a condemned man who had a family?  Whether one’s beliefs are in God or in random variations generated by mutations, we are either made for or have evolved toward finding meaning in our life.  The skeptic would say that my point is a happy illusion:  Yes, we need to believe this, but we do so just to stay alive; it is adaptive to think fairytale thoughts.

Meaning in sufferingYet, what else in nature can you identify that is so very important and at the same time is an illusion?  I can think of nothing.  If finding and having meaning is tied to our well-being, then there must be something to it.  The psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, who survived Auschwitz (which Maximilian Kolbe chose not to survive for a higher good of protecting another person), observed this: Only those who survived Auschwitz found meaning in the profound suffering endured there.  Those who found meaninglessness died.  Finding meaning in this case was tied to positive, concrete outcomes.  There was a need (to find meaning) that was fulfilled (surviving and even thriving).  Can you think of any other real need that is not tied to something real that can fulfill it?  If not, then it seems reasonable to say that we have real needs with real fulfillments and finding meaning and achieving the state of thriving are concretely, really linked together without illusion.

When we are treated deeply unjustly by others, we suffer. If we have come, through wisdom, to know the meaning of life, then we will find meaning in our suffering. If we find meaning in both life and suffering, we have the foundation to forgive well and to survive well the cruelty against us.

Sound and fury, signifying nothing?  Please be careful in so concluding.

Robert

Your Forgiveness Legacy

Forgiveness is not finished with you yet. How will you lead your life from this point forward? It is your choice. When that story is finally written, what will the final chapters say about you? The beauty of this story is that you are one of the contributing authors. You do not write it alone, of course, but with the help of those who encourage you, instruct and guide you, and even hurt you. You are never alone when it comes to your love story. It does not matter one little bit where the story was going before you embraced the virtue of forgiveness. What matters now is how you finish that story, how you start to live your life from this point forward.

What do you think? Do you think that most people are deliberately and consciously writing their own love stories, in part on the basis of leading The Forgiving Lifelong JourneyLife? Or, are most people rushing by, not giving much thought to forgiveness or love?

What do you think? Do you think that most people are aware of their legacy, what they will leave behind from this precise moment on, or are they rushing about, not giving a moment’s notice to that legacy?

What do you think? Do you think that you can make a difference in a few or even many people’s lives by awakening them to the fact that they can rewrite their stories and make them love stories through forgiveness?

Enright, Robert D. (2012-07-05). The Forgiving Life (APA Lifetools) (Kindle Locations 5320-5331). American Psychological Association. Kindle Edition.

Quotations on Forgiveness from Desmond Tutu (Honorary Board Member of the International Forgiveness Institute)

We are made for loving. If we don’t love, we will be like plants without water.

Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.

Desmond TutuWhen we see others as the enemy, we risk becoming what we hate. When we oppress others, we end up oppressing ourselves. All of our humanity is dependent upon recognizing the humanity in others.

Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing.

A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.

Robert

I am married to the same man for 33 years. On the very first night of our honeymoon I noticed that this man had problems with intimacy. He really feared it. We’ve managed to have two biological children and have adopted two children. My husband doesn’t like to be touched. He cringes if I put my hand on his shoulder. Recently, he has picked up an old habit that he stopped for many years…masturbating. I have walked in on him many, many times. I’ve asked him to stop. I insisted that he see a therapist which he does weekly. I can’t help feeling like I am invisible. I feel like whatever I need/needed from him doesn’t matter to him. He doesn’t drink or womanize. He goes to work everyday. I feel very guilty for hating him sometimes. Please help.

First, let me say that I admire your loyalty to your husband. You already are showing courage, patience, and forgiveness.  I suspect that something happened in your husband’s childhood or adolescence to make him cringe when touched.  He likely is classically conditioned to touch in this way.  Was there physical abuse in his past?  If so, he needs to uncover that and, if he is willing, to work on forgiving the person who damaged his ability to be close.  I would start there–with the assumption of physical abuse in his past.  Please be gentle as you bring this up because he may be in denial or have a lot of pain associated with the experience (if indeed it happened).

I am on the journey of forgiveness and I am following your steps in the book, The Forgiving Life. I have hit a big bump in the road on your step of working to understand the one who hurt me. I am afraid to “step inside his shoes” because of the hurt. When I cannot do this, my entire forgiveness path kind of crumbles and I feel I am making no progress. What can you suggest to get me unstuck?

It seems to me that your trust is damaged with regard to this person.  If so, please keep in mind that as you forgive, you do not have to trust at first.  Trust comes when you are ready to reconcile.  If this insight does not help, then please re-think your level of anger. Perhaps you are more angry than you realize.  If this is so, try to forgive the person for a lesser offense.  Another strategy is to begin the forgiveness process with a less challenging person.  As you learn to forgive this person, you may become stronger in your forgiveness and then be able to deal with this more challenging person and his or her difficult offense against you. A key is to retain a strong will to forgive.

The Clash of Forgiveness and Evil

Lance Morrow: “Evil possesses an instinct for theater, which is why, in an era of gaudy and gifted media, evil may vastly magnify its damage by Mandelathe power of horrific images.” If this is true, we need forgiveness all the more in our times.

Is there a better way of destroying the damaging effects of evil than forgiveness?  As a mode of peace, forgiveness is a paradox because at the same time it is a weapon, one that fights against the ravages of evil.  By destroying resentment, forgiveness is a protection for individuals, families, groups, and societies.

Robert

Forgiveness and Trust

Forgiveness = TrustWhen you forgive, you do not say, “Because I forgive you, I now trust you.” No. You can forgive and still not trust. If the person is showing you that he or she is a danger to you, then mistrust of his or her behavior is warranted. At the same time, and this is stated specifically to those who have experienced trauma, be careful not to confuse a general mistrust and particular mistrust toward a particular person.Forgiveness & Trust In other words, many traumatized people have a pervasive mistrust that needs work. Sometimes the traumatized person meets someone who truly is a good person, reliable, and safe to be with, yet the mistrust from past relationships is so great that he or she just cannot give of oneself in the new relationship. Knowing this and working deliberately on the previous issues of mistrust will help. Forgiveness will help. Time will help. Trust is such a delicate thing and needs work if it will improve.

From the book, The Forgiving Life, APA Books, 2012.

Robert