This week I have been listening to the audiobook “The Book of Joy” – which if you have not picked up a copy yet, you should. For me it has brought a lot of reflection in my own life. This book is written by the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Abrams Carlton. It follows 5 day meeting Dalai Lama’s home where they are reflecting over their lives and how they find joy in the midst of pain and suffering.
During their conversation a several things stuck out to me, but one of the key things is that “suffering is necessary for developing compassion”. Both the Dalai Lama and Archbishop believe that compassion naturally just becomes joy and leads to a happier life.
The idea of suffering and pain in the world has been used in the philosophy of religion debates for years- it’s been used to argue for and against the existence of an omniscient God by people all over the world. As I have been reflecting on this over the week I was reminded of James 1:2-4 which says,
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you encounter trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Allow perseverance to finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything”.
Or take a look at Romans 5: 3:5
God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us
Scripture reminds us that that the suffering, trials, and pain that we encounter in life are not to make us miserable, or to prove that there is no God. It doesn’t mean that God has given up on you; it means He is testing you. He is forcing you to grow, mature, and learn. Our trials become the things that give us strength and make us really reflect on where we are in our faith.
How we face those trials and sufferings says a great deal in where we are in our faith. In the “Book of Joy” the Dalai Lama and Archbishop touch on how our perspectives and how we respond to suffering plays a part in the joy we have in our life. We basically have two choices: we can choose to be miserable in the pain and suffering we are enduring, or we can choose joy. That’s right “joy” is a choice.
They describe joy as stemming from compassion for others and how true joy is not something is fleeting or brief- such as pleasure- but it gives us a sense of fulfillment. It is not selfish. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and the bible describes true joy as being a gift from God, something to share with others. It is not about what makes you feel the best; it is about putting someone else’s needs above your own. It is having compassion and love for others- which in turn brings us joy. When we focus on the needs of others, we are able to take that focus off of ourselves. We forget about the pain we are in, or maybe we have a better understanding of what that person is going through- because you too, have suffered that same pain.
But this isn’t an easy task. It’s easy to let the pain swallow us up; it’s easier to focus on our own pain and suffering. We let ourselves become isolated in the suffering, instead of recognizing that there are others who are facing similar situations. Is it wrong to feel hurt or sad? No, of course not. But at the end of the day we have a choice to make- we are either going to let the suffering swallow us up OR we can use that suffering in order to show compassion and love to others. We can use that suffering to create a positive change in the world.
But how do we do that? How do we change our suffering into positive change?
Well as a Christian, I do this through prayer. I have learned to lean on God and trust His will. I trust that I am not going through a trial just to suffer- but that there is some greater purpose behind this- one that I may not ever fully understand. I have to remember to give my worries, fears, and doubts to the Lord (which is sometimes REALLY hard) 1 Peter5:7 Cast your worries to the Lord, because he cares for you; I go to Him for comfort, and I reflect on His word.
I say all this because I know that when times get hard, it’s easy to let the negative feelings take over. I definitely am that person yelling at someone who cut me off, or focusing on my bad day instead of listening to someone else’s needs. But when we practice and are intentional in our prayer life and walk in Faith, we can find joy, compassion, and understanding.