For all those who have shared their most intimate struggles with me; for everyone who is suffering quietly; for anyone who has taken suffering head on and thrived; for anyone who thinks this is the end of the road; I dedicate this post to you.
My post today is consciously different from the ones I normally write. The writing stems from the wonderful transformation the season of lent brings to all who believe. Irrespective of your religious affiliations, a cathartic shift is something we all long for.
God’s love is transformative and it transcends our limited human understanding. I am not an expert and I am certainly not chaste in any way to be “preaching.” As always, this is something I have learned and want to share. I know the skeptics and non-believers will gag and frown.
Growing up, I was averse to sitting through a sermon on a Sunday morning and listening to someone in the pulpit preaching to the crowds about the “truth.” It would frustrate me to no end since everything I ever heard was never grounded in what seemed acceptable reality. The sermons were most definitely sessions that came out of a philosophy majors’ intellectual wrestling with faith, free will and reason. Kantian, Descartian, and Freudian philosophies all tied up with a pretty little bow in an excruciatingly simplistic manner to unravel eternal truths. Most often than not, it would simply pass over one’s reasonably intelligent mind. I would always wonder if anyone ever left Sunday service with some serious takeaways.
Long story short, when I first heard a preacher state, “the cross is the greatest gift a Christian could ask for,” I balked. How on earth can one accept a symbol of suffering and rejoice in it? Who in their rightful minds would want to willingly accept suffering and celebrate the burden now was theirs? I’m not God nor am I Jesus, so why should I even consider this insane proposition of carrying the cross joyfully? I’ve wrestled with this question for very many years and possibly holding the tail end at this very moment.
Here’s a story that gave me direction:
“During the Napoleonic Wars, men were conscripted into the French army by a lottery system. If your name was drawn, you had to go off to battle. But in the rare case that you could get someone else to take your place, you were exempt.
On one occasion the authorities came to a certain man and told him that his name had been drawn. But he refused to go, saying, “I was killed two years ago.”
At first they questioned his sanity, but he insisted that this was in fact the case. He claimed that the records would show that he had been conscripted two years previously and that he had been killed in action.
“How can that be?” they questioned.
“You are alive now.”
He explained that when his name came up, a close friend said to him, “You have a large family, but I’m not married and nobody is dependent on me. I’ll take your name and address and go in your place.”
The records upheld the man’s claim. The case was referred to Napoleon himself, who decided that the country had no legal claim on that man. He was free because another man had died in his place.” (In “Our Daily Bread,” Fall, 1980.)
He carried the cross for me. That’s all I will say.
In him picking up the cross for me, I technically got off and got off easy. I did not have to ‘suffer’ in the truest sense of the word. When we do not experience something first hand, it is but natural for us not to connect with it on a deep, deep level.
Suffering is no different. If we do not suffer, we never connect with our inner, truer selves. This is where the theory of joyfully carrying the Cross hits home with me. Most philosophical dogmas theorize that suffering and joy stem from within. We are sinners and saints lead by our own misgivings or moments of epiphany.
Big bad things happen to people and they cause traumatic experiences to feel unpleasant. Typically, damage of some kind, be it physical or psychological causes trauma. A paper cut is a minor traumatic experience in comparison to being run over by a speeding vehicle. An injury to your psyche–your emotions, your beliefs, your sense of self, your goals, your dreams (these could range from a disapproving look to someone wanting to cut all ties) cause varying degrees of trauma.
I am not undermining the experience of trauma. Suffering is a painful experience. The horrible consequences of traumatic experiences are perhaps clearest in post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD).
We reserve the word trauma for things that affect us acutely. The consequences of trauma are what make the experience a big bad thing to reckon with. Being caught up in analyzing how the trauma occurred and what could be done to treat it, we seldom observe the positive changes in our lives.
Different people react differently to trauma. Some experience severe PTSD and PGT (Posttraumatic Growth). Some experience either of the two and still some experience neither. My focus for today’s post is to focus on PGT, and therefore, the prior reference to carrying the cross gleefully J
Sufferers of PTSD have a host of posttraumatic events to deal with and some of them are daunting and frighteningly difficult to overcome. My focus today is to shift away from PTSD and towards people who do not experience PTSD despite a major traumatic experience.
“Posttraumatic growth is the experience of positive change that occurs as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life crises. It is manifested in a variety of ways, including an increased appreciation for life in general, more meaningful interpersonal relationships, an increased sense of personal strength, changed priorities, and a richer existential and spiritual life.” (Tedeschi and Calhoun (2004)
If you hike up a mountain with a really heavy load on your back, and when you finally reach your destination at the summit, you have nothing but awe and respect for everything around you, and most importantly awe and respect for yourself.
The Cross is a metaphorical reference. In my understanding, it is PTG. Understanding the burden, finding ways to set it down and looking back on that journey is the catharses that will inevitably occur.
Think about it.
Being able to break down my own moments of strife and learning how to overcome a life crisis has given me hope; hope that is undeniably powerful and cathartic.
TO me, the power of suffering let’s me know that big bad things do not always have the last word.
Lear more about PTG here: https://ptgi.uncc.edu/what-is-ptg/
Part of my post here stems from my musings here: https://wordpress.com/stats/day/boogiemantra.wordpress.com