Suffering is Inevitable (and what I learned from a 7 year old with the stomach flu)

My two youngest children have a very different approach to being sick. When my youngest daughter gets the stomach flu, even when she was 4 or 5 years old, she would go to the washroom, be sick, and go back to her room and no one would really know anything about it until she told us later. My son, on the other hand, who was two years older than her offered us a fairly significant warning system that he was about to be sick. It involved a lot of yelling, calling for us to come, and right before it happened, he would yell panicked, yet matter-of-factly, “I’m gonna do this! This is happening!”

We always thought it was funny because he was older, he was a boy, and all the usual stereotypes about toughness, while our little daughter just quietly went through her uncomfortable moments like they were no big deal.

Today that memory got me thinking about life in a number of ways.

We don’t want to have uncomfortable moments. We don’t want to have pain or suffering, whether it’s in our physical bodies, in our relationships, work, finances, etc. A lot of our time can become preoccupied with trying to stop these bad things from happening. And in lots of ways that can actually be helpful. There are things you can do to maintain positive circumstances in your life.

However, suffering and pain is an inevitable part of life. We can’t escape it. Certainly not all the time.

What I learned from my son and his approach to the stomach flu is: he was acknowledging that something uncomfortable was going to happen and he was psyching himself up to deal with it.

“I’m going to do this because this is happening.”

How often do we approach our problem situations with, “I don’t want this to happen” or “I can’t do this”? And then maybe we ignore the problem for a while or wear ourselves down with negative thoughts about our inability to cope. Neither of these attend to the problem. And so it’s still there.

What does it look like to approach our life problems with “I’m going to do this, this is happening?”

The bad thing is happening: the trouble with our finances, the uncomfortable situation with a family member, or something we are struggling with personally… Those things are happening and now how are we going to do to walk through it all?

The truth is, we walk through our struggles one way or another. Denying our problems or pushing them away might seem easier in the moment, but the problems always find ways of leaking out until we start paying attention.

Sometimes we feel ill-equipped to handle our problems ourselves. Thankfully we live in a time in history where it is much more acceptable to talk about hard things of all sorts. If you feel like you can’t manage on your own, there are so many resources available to you if you take that first step of asking.

So, next time you have something overwhelming in life, think of my son with his loud, dramatic voice, and make the choice to boldly say, “I’m going to do this because this happening.”

In the end, is it really a choice? Yes and no.

You don’t always choose your circumstances, but you do get to choose how you face them.

 

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