Life involves moments of boredom and thrills, times of work and play, seasons of joy and seasons of suffering. And, suffering can take many different forms: disease, physical pain, mental illness, tragedy, handicaps, or many others.
Some of you that are regular visitors here at djchuang.com may have noticed the lower frequency and erratic pace of my blog posts last year. You have rightly observed.
When suffering looked like last year
2017 was hard season for me personally. I know it was a hard year for a lot of people with hurricanes, natural disasters, mass shootings; for others, disease or debt or death. I attended more memorial services than ever.
I struggle with a mood disorder, something in that mental illness category. Unfortunately, mental illness still carries with it a stigma in American society. And if there’s that much stigma in America, you can imagine how much more stigma and shame there is for Asian Americans and Asians. This mood disorder used to look like, in my life, a cyclical pattern of 4 weeks of lower-energy moods and then 2 weeks of higher-energy moods. Last year, my mood swings got disrupted; the cards got reshuffled and I was left holding only low cards.
For 6 months, from March to September, I went thru a heavy depression. I couldn’t shake it. I did stay consistent on my self-care. I had to make a conscious effort to do anything and everything, every day and every moment. With all the energy it took to do that so I could still work and be gainfully employed, I had none left to be blogging or read the news or stay connected on social media. I was in survival mode.
I could use all the help I could get: physically, relationally, mentally, medicinally, spiritually, dietary, psychologically, slowing down, getting consistent sleep. Eventually, my doctors found the right mix of medication that got me out of that dark tunnel. And, perhaps, my diligent work of taking care of my body and mind and soul, accumulated enough good points to bring me back to my normal.
Thanks to a bunch of friends in a private Facebook group, I didn’t go thru the struggle alone.
The spiritual part of suffering
During this season of suffering, I thought a lot about suffering. I couldn’t get away from it. That in itself was part of the suffering.
Some people don’t believe in a spiritual part of life and that the material world is all there is.
And other people have other faith traditions with different approaches to dealing with suffering.
Suffering is a shock to our system, our being, our understanding of the world. That jolt either causes someone to reject their faith or to draw strength from their faith. Suffering doesn’t visit without shaking things up.
My suffering drew me closer to God, as I understand Him, as revealed in the Bible; my Christian faith was deepened. For many weeks and months, I would recite the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 over and over. Those words gave me something good to hold to, something much better than my negative thoughts and feelings.
When I had energy, I would journal to get those things out of my mind so I wouldn’t lose my mind. And, I’m very grateful that I could afford counseling sessions, where I had a safe place to relax and declutter my brain.
I started to learn a way to pray that kept me engaged, that is, by writing and typing. Started a 30-week prayer blog at demystifying.bible so I’d have a place to share my conversations with God, in hopes that it’d help people to demystify praying so they can get more of the help they need and want from a good God.
Empathy for our human condition
I’ll mention one other thing that last year’s suffering impressed upon me. I believe my empathy for all kinds of people has grown. Knowing how weak I was, mentally and emotionally, I could better relate to the challenges that people have of overcoming an addiction, living a humble life, being desperate, feeling frustrated, weeping over losses, trying to bounce back from a setback, hanging on for dear life, lamenting over strained relationships, enduring chronic pains, having to eat yucky foods for medicinal purposes, undergoing surgery for whatever, persisting on that job search, etc etc etc.
What suffering produces
Don’t misunderstand me. Suffering is not a good thing, it’s a painful and terrible thing. Suffering is an inevitable part of living in a broken and imperfect world.
But it’s not the end of the story.
Suffering can be redeemed and it can bring about some good things.
Compassion that truly softens the heart, perhaps, can only come through suffering.
Suffering is also one of the essential ingredients of spiritual growth and spiritual maturity. I’d even say it could be a catalyst or accelerator for maturity. Sure there are good books and courses and resources to help someone develop their spirituality. But they don’t tell you about this: that part of spiritual growth can only come from suffering.
Closing words, from the Bible: Suffering produces perseverance, character, and hope. Count it all joy when you face suffering, trials of all kinds, because when it has done its work, you will be mature and not lacking anything. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.