Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Giving dignity to those who suffer

Prompted by a student of mine, I have been thinking about struggle. I have often wondered about the fact that struggle seems to typlify some lives more than others. To try to make sense of struggle, some people universalize it: "We all struggle and suffer." Who can argue with a statement like that? It's true that we do. However, I often become bothered by such a naive statement of reduction. I believe I can quantify and qualify struggle better since I am a parent of a child who has struggled with autism/schizophrenia/adhd, and the combination thereof which has impacted his daily life. However, I don't wish to reduce the suffering of others, yet I see two big differences to consider when normalizing some kinds of struggles.

1) Some struggles involve a chronic painful nature. They are not episodes or stages, no matter the intensity of these. This struggle has been there from the beginning or for a long time, both in the past, the present, and the future.

2) Some struggles have an all-encompassing nature. This kind of struggle involves multiple outcomes such as the inability to have relationships; to hold a job; to go to college; to be safe in a school environment; the inability to get out of a bed;  out of a chair;  to speak to others; to have a stability of health whether physical, mental, or emotional and etcetera. Life itself can be threatened by these struggles which includes many chronic and encompassing barbs.

I'm sure there are more, but these are what I can think of right now.

In thinking about my student who struggles with mental issues, I can see that his fight is fiercer than the normal adolescent, who is also suffering from various things. His fight is both chronic and encompassing for him. To compare many others' struggles with his is like comparing a cancer to a cold. If others did that his mother would say, "They have no idea," and she is right. She knows about the mental institution, the run after the suicidal son in the night, the continous psychiatric visits, the chronic worry, despair, need for full reliance upon help, the courage it requires.

I like the example of Christ who recognized each person's dignity in their struggle. He knew the great fighters during his day:  the woman who touched his robe; the leper banned from community; the mental anguish of the demon-possessed man. He gave them dignity when they were normalized or blamed or shunned. Great sufferers of the Bible are depicted also as heroic in their fight for light. I think that we can learn much from these examples. We don't have to laud or give an award to those who have greater struggles, but we can give them dignity and respect without trying to take that away from them by reducing their struggle through inadequate comparisons.

My friend who recently lost her husband to brain cancer and her home to a fire wrote this morning about her necessity in resting in Christ's arms through her suffering. She also referenced a hope-filled and dignity-providing verse to those who suffer; a verse which gives purpose and hope and comfort to those who go through certain intense fires. She underlined the meaningful part to her. I'm glad this verse shows the understanding vision and care for those who struggle, both normally and greatly. May we believe in it. Amen.

2 Corinthians 1:3-5  3 all praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 4 He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 5 For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. 

1 comment:

nsp said...

In my attempt to empathize, I've tried to find common ground in the suffering of others. But now I realize that I might be minimizing what they are going through.