The Joy of Suffering

Happy Thanksgiving! As we take time to focus on what we are thankful for in our lives, it is often very easy to become complacent. We may even fail to take notice of how and why we are so fortunate to have the things and people in our lives we have at a given time. We often overlook the processes and events in our lives that have led us to the point of good fortune that many of us find ourselves in on this day. 

On this Thanksgiving, I would ask you to take time and give thanks, truly humbling gratitude, for the suffering you have endured at the various times during your life. As security professionals, we often tend to focus on negative aspects of life without acknowledging the joys of life that we hope to allow our clients and students to enjoy. We tend to focus on the dangers of life that are encompassed with suffering without allowing them to see the growth and ultimate good that can come from the misfortunes, trials, and hardships that every human being will ultimately face along this journey called life. 

You may ask: Why on Earth would I be grateful for suffering? Why on Earth would I express gratitude for having endured hellish circumstances in my life? Indeed, these are fair points, and at first glance it makes no sense to give thanks for pain. But it is through pain, trial, tribulation, and suffering that we grow, progress, and become better than we are at present moment. 

Suffering may be emotional. I am just like many of you that are encountering this blog right now. Both of my parents have passed on. Through life circumstance, I am estranged from two of my family members with no end in sight to the conflict. On these days, no matter how joyful they may be, there is a piece of you missing. Or is it? Yes, I miss my parents dearly. I miss my grandparents. This Thanksgiving, for some reason, I thought a lot about my paternal grandmother…. My Granny. She passed away just prior to my fifteenth birth in December 1987. She was a mountain lady from Kentucky that always wore a blue checkered dress with her hair in a bun. She also always wore a smile on her face, at least that is how I remember her. I miss the people in my life that have passed away or have moved along a separate path. It stings on days like Thanksgiving that they are not there to at least smile at you. But they played a role in developing you into the person you are now, and they will continue to do so. 

Suffering can be physical. Some of you reading along right now may have a sincere desire to lose weight or become more physically fit. I was just like you two years ago. I experienced a scare involving my blood sugar that motivated me to lose weight, even though I was still physically active. I changed my diet and believe me that was the hardest part of the journey. I made different health choices. I also made changes in my physical training that physically challenged me. It did more than physically challenge me. It hurt. But in order to become the person I desired to be, I had to accept the fact that physical pain and discomfort would be landmarks on the path to my goal. We should not avoid pain because it makes us grow. Don’t fear pain when you are setting goals. Instead, embrace pain because it is a measuring rod of your progress. When the thing that made you uncomfortable and challenged you last week is no longer an obstacle, you have overcome that obstacle. You have suffered through that obstacle to success. 

Suffering can be intellectual. Today, people have lost the ability to not only think, but to deeply contemplate the issues surrounding life. If we can’t sum up what we think in 140 characters on Twitter, then not only is the thought lost to history, but it was never real in the first place. I have often stated that many in the martial arts and security professions teach in a manner that is a mile wide and an inch deep, meaning there is very little substance to the subject matter being presented. The modern mind is void of the ability to deeply analyze phenomena in life. Whether the subject is science, politics, or religion, the modern man is suffering without even knowing it. 

Societies can suffer as well. It is no secret that in America right now, we are suffering. We are more divided now than ever, and this division will most likely grow worse as time progresses. It doesn’t matter what side of the political or social fence you may find yourself. What matters is that your neighbors, your coworkers, and the parents of the children that your little ones cherish may be the very ones that you now see as an enemy. As a whole, we have lost the ability to not understand differences, but to accept them and find pathways in which both sides of an ideology can find peace and happiness as members of the same society. 

This may shock some of you, and it may upset some of you. But what America needs right now, individually and collectively, is a massive amount of suffering. We have grown complacent. We have gotten lazy. We have placed more of an emphasis on not losing our house than ensuring our children are developing a moral compass. We are more interested in ensuring that our reputation at work or online is seen as pristine rather than being true to our beliefs, which ultimately makes each person trotting down this path to be a clandestine liar. The cure to this ill is loss and suffering. I have lost a house and possessions due to horrific circumstances. Over time, and suffering that was a byproduct of the suffering that led to the loss, I regained what I lost. This time, I am much more gratified because I understand what I have, and I understand that the fear associated with losing possessions is only a mirage. I have lost my reputation, and I have endured having those with whom I worked with look at me with scorn and disdain. It was devastating, but as the years have progressed, I have learned that the suffering I endured in that aspect of my life allowed me to discover my true self. 

We are on the precipice of economic collapse in this country. We are on the verge of social and political chaos that could very well rip our society apart. This may be necessary because if we continue down the path we are travelling as individuals and as a society, we are setting ourselves up for a catastrophe. 

Do not be afraid of pain. Do not be afraid of loss. Do not be afraid of suffering. If you are afraid of loss, your priorities are misaligned. It is through suffering and pain that we grow.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”  –James 1:2-3

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