“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. …When he was abused, he did not return abuse.” 1 Peter 2:21, NRSV
The first noble truth of the eight in Buddhism is that suffering is universal. I think we all agree. In Romans, the early apostle Paul wrote we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (3:23) It was one of the first verses in our Christian tradition I learned. It means we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t fall short in living in perfect peace and joy.
The writer of the book of Hebrews penned we are to “endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? If you do not have that discipline in which all children share then you are illegitimate and not his children.” (Heb. 12:7-8)
In my favorite book, A Course in Miracles, it says “When you equate yourself with a body you will always experience depression.” (Text, Ch. 8, VII.6)
To live in bodies and a constantly changing world is to experience various degrees of suffering and pain. If one could live in this world without suffering and pain, or at least manage it to a reasonable degree, he or she would be a model of serenity!
Suffering, pain and anger are closely related. When we suffer, mentally or physically, it is natural to feel anger and frustration. We feel depressed, which some define as anger turned inward. But rather than working to dispel the anger and sense of suffering, we so easily adapt to it and use it to our advantage. We gain control from our suffering, often making our anger a powerful tool to manipulate and control others.
Can you think of a time when a person controlled you by his or her anger and sense of suffering? We all do it or have done it. My father lived to be over 91 years of age, but as a young boy, I used to think he would die before I ever left home at age 18! When he would get tired or want more work actions out of his sons or hired men, he often would fain “heart failure!” Honest. I remember him grabbing his chest and scaring the bejebbers out of us; “O, my heart is just pounding! I can feel it jumping up and down in my chest!” Of course, we worked harder and faster! And then dad went on to live to over 91 years, retiring at age 53! I still loved him!
I was once in a support group which a woman told of her situation with a husband who in his late forties had been diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy. In a few years he had lost ability to walk and thus moved about in a wheel chair. She quit her career to help care for him and at times, due to his suffering and anger caused by such a drastic life change, he would guilt-trip his wife to do more for him. One of her reliefs was working as a volunteer for the Kleinhans Hall concert series. It got her out for the evening with some friends and a chance to be at the concert free. One day, her husband stopped her from leaving saying, “I don’t feel too well tonight; I don’t want you to go.” She tried to assure him he would be okay but he wouldn’t hear it; it demanded she stay. Living near the Niagara Gorge, he even threatened to roll his chair to the edge and push himself over to death if she left him! Suddenly she came to her senses in a drastic way saying, “Honey, I am going to the Kleinhans Center tonight and when I get home, if you have not pushed yourself over the gorge, I personally will do it!” And she left for the evening. When she returned, her husband sat in his chair and asked, “Honey, how did it go?”
We even use suffering and anger to manipulate God as well. Again from the book, A Course in Miracles teaches, we read how we seek to manipulate others as we secretly cry, “At your hand we die!” (T. 27.I.4.6) We love to play the victim card being attracted to those reportedly killed or seriously injured by “fate.” We watch and read news and reports of floods, wars, accidents, shaking our heads saying, “Look how the hard working, innocent die? Why does God allow it?” It’s the same question asked of Jesus when the tower of Siloam fell on those hapless folks, “Who sinned, they or their parents?” (Luke 13)
Release from such suffering, sickness and anger comes from awakening to our True Self, our Christ Mind within, what and who we are. Bodies, worlds, planets, moods, lives in time/space are all mortal, changing, filled with pain and disappointments, because this is their very nature. Contacts with matter make us feel heat and cold, pleasure and pain. … you must learn to endure fleeting things—they come and go! There is no place to hide. (Gita, chapter 2) Except in our thinking, our awakening.
The answer to suffering and pain which produces anger, hidden within or outwardly expressed? It’s in your head, in your thinking, in your awakening. As the Hindu writer wrote, “Your mental anger disturbs your thinking.” It says, “Hey! The Presence is within you! Just quit looking outside and find it within!” I believe Wayne Dyer put it, “Pain is universal, but suffering is optional.” It becomes a decision.
The example of Jesus can be our model. For it is a credit to you, if being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. (2 Peter 1:19) The answer lies in our awakening, our awareness, and thus our perspective. Then the writer goes on, “To this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might lie for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” Wow! What an example!
It is this perspective which allows us to see God as the Good Shepherd, removing wants and unhappiness, showing us how to “lie down in green pastures” all around us! It’s not out there, in another place, in another country, state, latitude or longitude; it’s right here, right where we are now!
Yes, to live in a bi-polar, dualistic world is a constant “kill or be killed” mentality. There is no safe place to hide in it except in our thinking, the realization this is not our home but for a few short years, the snap of a fingers in eternity. Or less. We can learn to let it go. “When he was abused, he did not return abuse.” Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Suffering can be redemptive” but only if we choose to embrace it without returning abuse. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil!”
There is the story in India of a great Spiritual Teacher, or Guru, who was very popular and beloved. Many people came to him for teachings and help in living. At the very high point of his life, a young sixteen year old girl became pregnant. She told her concerned parents the father was the Guru Teacher. They were furious and told the community. Soon no one respected the Guru anymore or came to his small ashram. The baby was born and the infant was brought and left on the Teacher’s step. He quietly took it in and with the help of a local woman, nurtured and cared for it the best they could. Several months when by and finally the young teen could take it no longer; she confessed to her parents that the true father was a young man who lived close to them! Her parents then went in deep apology to the Teacher, confessing the truth and asking forgiveness and the return of the child. The Teacher quietly brought them the child and told them simply it would be okay. And soon people began to see him again for counsel. The Teacher as a free man!
Today, let us face our sufferings, our hidden and open angers and attacks. But see them as ephemeral and unreal in the Spirit, Unseen world. Let us mediate and ponder on the secret to happiness, to inner prosperity. It begins with forgiveness of ourselves for letting go the years of searching outside for it. We forgive ourselves for chasing illusions, delusions in things, people, and all outward signs of success which leave us so often unhappy, restless, and with emptiness. We return to the Great Shepherd of our souls, leading us into green pastures and allowing us to lie down and bask awhile in renewal and delight!
“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. …When he was abused, he did not return abuse.” 1 Peter 2:21,NRSV
Shared with the people at First Presbyterian Church, West Seneca, Sunday, May 15, 10:00 a.m.