Life Skills #12 – Transformational Suffering (Discussion Notes)

.WFTM – Jan 14, 21, 22, March 18, May 3, June 5, 24

(1) Beginning to Talk About Suffering

*Read over these quotes. What seems new, even perhaps confusing? What sounds familiar, but something you need to remember? What emotions are you feeling?

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.” James Baldwin


“In the middle of the pain there is some hidden gift. I, more and more in my life, have discovered that other gifts of life are often hidden in the places that hurt most.” Henri Nouwen


“Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching . . . . I have been bent and broken, but–I hope–into a better shape.” Charles Dickens


“I have learned to kiss the waves that throw me up against the rock of ages.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon


“We never know the wine we are becoming while we are being crushed like grapes.” Henri Nouwen


“Just as bread needs to be broken in order to be given, so, too, do our lives.” Henri Nouwen


“Pain is knowledge rushing in to fill a gap.” Jerry Seinfeld


“Spirituality is about what we do with our pain.” Richard Rohr

(2) Longer Quotes with Wisdom to Hear

*Can you talk about what you’re hearing in these words?


“I’m not surprised by the fact that inexplicable and terrible things happen in a cosmos as complicated as ours, with sentient beings like us running the show. But I am emboldened by the fact that surprise is the only constant. We are never really running the show, never really in control, and nothing will go quite as we imagined it. Our highest ambitions will be off, but so will our worst prognostications. I am emboldened by the puzzling, redemptive truth to which each and every one of my conversations has added nuance, that we are made by what would break us. Birth itself is a triumph through a bloody, treacherous process.We only learn to walk when we risk falling down, and this equation holds–with commensurately more complex dynamics–our whole lives long. I have heard endless variations on this theme–the battle with illness that saves the life that follows; the childhood pain that leads to vocation; the disability that opens into wholeness and a presence to the hidden wholeness of others. You have your own stories, the dramatic and more ordinary moments where what has gone wrong becomes an opening to more of yourself and part of your gift to the world. This is the beginning of wisdom.” Krista Tippett

*How do these quotes reinforce, or add to, what we’ve seen in the first one? If you talk about that, talk about it in terms of your own experience, not just thoughts or beliefs.

“We are faced here with a phenomenon which has been widely attested by countless Christians who have lived out their Christian and human existence without looking for any cheap consolation. Countless incurably sick who discovered through their sickness a new awareness of themselves. Countless individuals for whom a new dimension in their life was opened up through their own misfortune, through the loss or even the treachery of someone they had loved. Countless people who, through all disappointments, separations, mis-hits, failures, humiliations, setbacks and disregard, transformed their lives and acquired a new personal quality; through suffering becoming more mature, more experienced, more modest, more genuinely humble, more open for others–in a word, more human.” Hans Küng


“By trying to handle all suffering through willpower denial, medication, or even therapy, we have forgotten something that should be obvious: we do not handle suffering; suffering handles us–in deep and mysterious ways that become the very matrix of life and especially new life. Only suffering and certain kinds of awe lead us into genuinely new experiences.all the rest is merely the confirmation of old experience.” Richard Rohr

For Further Consideration (either before or after our conversation)


“For in grief nothing ‘stays put.’ One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. round and round. Everything repeats. . . . How often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say,‘I never realized my loss till this moment’? The same leg is cut off time after time.” C. S. Lewis


*To what kind of loss do you think Lewis’ words might apply? Have you ever experienced that kind of loss? What was it like? How were you changed?

Closing Prayer
“And I saw the river over which every soul must pass to reach the kingdom of heaven and the name of that river was suffering–and I saw the boat which carries souls across the river and the name of the boat was love.” [Abba, thank you for the boat of your love that carries me across the river of suffering.] Saint John of the Cross

One thought on “Life Skills #12 – Transformational Suffering (Discussion Notes)

  1. About a year ago, I asked Jesus to teach me to deal with adversity. What I learned is best stated by Richard Rohr: “…we do not handle suffering; suffering handles us.” That has been a difficult truth to learn and only suffering can teach it.

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