The Treasure Found in Suffering
No One likes to suffer; in fact we have a natural instinct within us to avoid pain – at all cost. We run from it, hide from it, ignore it, drown it out and find any distraction that will numb suffering when it comes knocking.
Suffering arrives as illness – rejection – loss – disappointment – loneliness – death – grief. It can feel like an ache that will never end. It can feel all consuming.
We live in a time where we have the ability to minimize suffering with health care, medications and “How to, Advice.” The ability to lessen pain is a gift but it can also lead to a belief that we shouldn’t have to suffer. If there’s something to numb agony then why in the world would we not grab it?
I would agree that extreme suffering can be detrimental to life; causing exhaustion or an inability to function day to day. Alleviating pain for these reasons is compassionate, but to overlook the opportunity to understand suffering can rob us of finding the treasure hidden deep within.
You may have heard the advice, “Embrace your suffering.” That’s counter intuitive but true. What does embrace your suffering even mean? It starts with taking a deep breath and turning towards pain instead of away from it. In so doing we choose to look at it, to take it in and to spend time reflecting on it’s the impact; then asking these questions of ourselves: “What am I feeling? Where is my suffering taking me? What is my suffering teaching me?”
By embracing my hurt I have taken the first step in peeling back the layers. What unfolds is a deeper understanding of me – seeing goodness in the midst of my pain – finding strength I did not know I held – courage – and a deepening compassion for others.
There are many gems to be found in difficult circumstances that we would much rather see bypass us; but to have missed the growth and capacity for emotional development – spiritual awareness and soul expansion – would be a missed opportunity . . . a tragedy.
Heal . . . be well . . . grow and know that suffering may not be permanent but the treasures buried within your suffering are.
Lessons From My Garden
What the unexpected loss of a weeping cherry tree teaches me
Two years ago, we planted a stunning Snow Fountain weeping cherry tree in our front yard. Its branches were espaliered on an umbrella-type trellis, adding a very dramatic presentation to a garden with a life of its own. The tree made it through a very cold winter in 2017 and last spring, the blossoms were extraordinary.
As we began work in the garden in April, I noticed the buds that formed on the branches over the winter weren’t flowering. I sent images to the nursery where we bought the tree and was told not to worry and to wait until everything around us turns green. As I waited for the green leaves I went online. Weeping cherry trees are grafts of two, sometimes three, trees to create those gorgeous, flowering branches. I found the graft around the neck of the tree, under a cluster of branches.
Everything greened up around the neighborhood this weekend, so my husband and I headed out with clippers to check the branches. To my horror every single branch above the graft was dead.
Every. Single. Branch.
I was shaken. After cutting away the dead limbs, my husband sawed off the portion above the graft and we wrapped it in a blanket and drove it to the nursery, hoping for an emergency miracle. The news wasn’t good. We were told our weeping cherry, which we now call ‘SF,’ is not coming back in this state. Unless we attempt to graft it ourselves, the tree stump is all that’s left. I felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach.
Finding it hard to identify why I felt so miserable, I recalled a phrase from Franciscan priest and author, Richard Rohr,
“How you love one thing is how you love everything.”
I never thought of the digging and weeding and dead-heading and watering as acts of love toward these living elements that surround us. Yet I follow a rhythm with bulbs and perennials and flowering trees. When I plant bulbs in the autumn I envision them resting and growing underground for months in the bitter cold, until they peek through the snow-covered ground to show themselves in full splendor. I, too, use the winter months to store up strength and develop new thoughts and ideas, and in spring I find I’m ready to present myself to the world with a fresh outlook.
When I put seedlings in the raised beds that become our tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries, peppers, kale, and herbs after Mother’s Day, they are planted in soil that we have carefully cultivated for the best growth. Should an unexpected hail storm pass through, we have barriers and cloth to protect the tender chutes. As a result of these efforts, a myriad of vegetables and fruits fortify us throughout the summer and fall.
You can find numerous studies/articles on how gardening:
- relieves stress
- rests your mind
- improves your mood
- provides more vitality
- impacts depression
- staves off cognitive decline.
Even without a garden, you can immerse yourself in a natural environment by walking through a park or botanic garden, driving to the mountains, hiking or sitting by a stream.
If you’re not able to get out at the moment, bring that life indoors. In my office I’m surrounded by orchids and bromeliads, a peace plant and succulents. The air quality in this room is fairly astonishing. You know how I keep them alive? I water them. Period.
As I peer out the window and see the place where ‘SF’ once stood, my connection to all the surviving plants emerging from a long, cold, winter seems stronger than ever. Even though I don’t admit that I talk to our greenery, there is a sweet communion here.
We did move ‘SF’ – now a 6-foot tree stump – to the backyard, where we will attempt to graft it with new life.
Or maybe it will show us how it will thrive in a most unusual way.
And for the record, we replaced ‘SF’ with a Summer Storm tree lilac. The nursery landscaper assured me it will live through anything.
The Wordless Dismissal
In the last few years, there have been a few people who decided they want nothing to do with me in any way, shape or form. And the wildest thing about these dismissals? Not a word. When you realize the person has ‘quit’ you and you try to reach out, there is no room for conversation. And you’re left wondering, what just happened? This growing phenomenon of passive-aggressive behavior, which requires no explanation, is akin to being ghosted.
The Urban Dictionary defines ghosting as, “When a person cuts off all communication with their friends or the person they’re dating with zero warning or notice before hand. This is done in hopes that the ‘ghostee’ will get the hint as opposed to simply telling the other person that he/she is no longer interested.”
Ghosting stretches beyond romantic relationships. If you want ‘out’ of any sort of connection with another person, friend, lover, family member or co-worker you can unfriend, unfollow, block, mute or put someone in your spam folder. You might ignore calls, delete messages or shred emails without reading them. Silently you can dismiss someone and become a phantom, of sorts. Except you’re still here, maybe even next door.
Trying to Re-Connect
So if you believe the relationship is valuable you might go ‘old school.’
Make a call. No answer.
Invite the person for coffee. Silence.
Send a card. Crickets.
Your friend is making it clear she doesn’t want to re-engage. She’s just not telling you with words. Still, something inside you insists there must be another way. You convince yourself that if you send another text, leave another voicemail or send a card for a momentous event, she’ll realize you don’t want to give up. Until she gets fed up and sends your card back, with “return to sender” written on the envelope. Ouch. Message received. While the blow was wordless, the pain of rejection roars in your head and pounds in your heart. You feel a heavy weight, lodged somewhere in your chest. It hurts.
What’s Your Role?
If you’re in the midst of this kind of sticky, icky, rejection, consider asking yourself whether you said or did something, now or in the past, that triggered your friend. This awareness will be helpful for you, because the likelihood of being able to share what you discover is slim. Since your friend won’t tell you what you’ve done, there may not be an opening to share. That means when you try to ask what you can do to make things right and move forward, he says nothing. His silence is his answer. Tempted as you may be to rinse and repeat and barrage your friend with efforts to reconcile, you’re likely to get the same result: no response.
After exhausting yourself with attempts to get back into the fold of people who’d rather not, what would it look like to leave the situation as is, without resisting or fighting or pursuing? When you choose to pause and consider what you need to move beyond the pain, you have your best chance ever to find resolution, even if it’s only in your mind.
Write About Your Loss
If you’re ready to release someone who chooses to vanish – write or journal or dictate notes to yourself. This is for you. Air out your frustrations with as many details as necessary. Put these notes aside for a few hours and then re-read what you’ve written. As you digest what you’ve written, you may come to realize your dismissal has nothing to do with you. Your friend has her own baggage to unpack
Who Loves You?
This may sound obvious, but when you’re paralyzed by the pain of silent rejection, you forget you have a circle of people you can count on. Even if it’s only one person. Bask in the love you have – and the love that is absent from this person will sting less. Ask yourself who cares about you and go to them.
Your World Is Bigger Than This Moment
Living your life based on what anyone else does will leave you with huge disappointments. This moment, even if it stretches for days or weeks or years, is a moment in time. Use movement – stand up, walk around the block, take a run, get on your bike. Physically shake off this lie that has a hold on you. The way you feel right now won’t last forever.
You Can’t Force This
No amount of agonizing over the silence of someone who’s moved on will force her to respond. Check in with yourself. If your attempts to connect are repeatedly unsuccessful, examine what you’re carrying around. It’s not yours to carry. Set down the weight. Sometimes a friend’s rejection becomes a gift. Not everyone is meant to be in your life forever.
Forgive your friend for his reaction. He’s being exactly who he is. You are whole. While you may not be able to interact one on one, speak truth to yourself: in your head, in the car or while you’re working out. No one can stop you from extending kindness in your thoughts and prayers and meditations, and those selfless actions will lift your spirits.
As painful as it is when you are silently rejected, you have what it takes to move beyond her and reclaim who you are. Allow the one who’s pushing you out to be who she is. Embrace the reality of what she’s done. Cut the cord. Remove the hook. One day things may take a different turn and when that happens you’ll get to decide how to proceed. Or not. And should you someday discover you want to distance yourself from a friend, remember this moment. Instead of silence, use words. Sure beats ghosting.
For a robust discussion this topic, listen to our podcast: The Impact of Rejection and Alienation.
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©2017-2019 More to Life with Faith and Lois. All rights reserved.
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