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Making Sense of Suffering

Written by Betty Streff

I went to the dollar store this week to buy cards and left with a whole sack full.  I should have bought a birthday card and a baby card but the list got so long I simply forgot.   My focus that day was on people who are aching. I only know a relatively tiny group of folks on the tiny slice of this enormous planet where I exist. And the number of the people that I know personally who are hurting is a bunch. A big bunch. And I know I’m overlooking 9 out of 10 because I can’t see it on the outside.

Wasn’t it almost a relief to have a news day this week with some lame stuff in the headlines? Runaway llamas, endless commentary about a dress with colors that change depending on who is looking at it.  Dumb stuff. Who-cares kind of stuff, but momentary relief from the horrors and the atrocities that parade through our living room 24/7/365. I don’t need to recount them for you, the evil is unspeakable.

This week I zoomed in and focused on my own little slice of the planet and I saw friends and loved ones suffering. Friends left alone after losing a mate of 30 years or more.  A precious soul beginning to lose a hard fought battle against cancer, another suffering crippling effects after surgery, two more close to me wracked with pain every day with little hope of relief. One recently confided that a tragedy from years ago still stirs up a long-lasting lack of trust in God. They wonder if there is a God at all.

I wrote words inside those cards with the hope that in some tiny way I could offer a small comfort to them, to know they matter, to know that the pain they are feeling will subside and that there is hope and meaning in all of it. I tried my best to avoid being heavy or deep, to keep it positive.  It drained me.  I felt so inadequate to the task.

I was deeply moved by this sense of inadequacy. Today I woke up determined to somehow help uncover the treasure than exists in the depth of every tragedy. Wait a minute. Me? The one who feels a huge gap in knowing what to say in a card? I do not possess enough wisdom to have the right words to inspire but thankfully I have been deeply influenced and guided by the words of those who suffered tragedy so great we can’t even imagine. I have learned that it was an unshakeable belief in finding the meaning in it all that made it possible for them to endure.   

Viktor Frankl’s words, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’” came to mind. His book Man’s Search for Meaning is deeply profound precisely because his suffering was so profound. He endured years in concentration camps where he lost his pregnant wife, his parents and his brother. After the war he wrote his now famous book to explain what can come from unavoidable suffering. He wrote, “when we are no longer able to change a situation…we are challenged to change ourselves…”

In scripture, the one who best demonstrates a spirit that cannot be broken is Job.  God allowed Satan to test his faithful servant to the point of stripping him of everything but his life.  His suffering was beyond what most of us imagine we could possibly endure but through it all, Job remained faithful even when he felt abandoned. Job’s “why” was a deep love and devotion to God that allowed him to remain steadfast in his belief.  He didn’t serve God only when things were going well.

All around me I see examples of flesh and blood people right here on my tiny slice of  the planet prevailing despite deep tragedy and loss all because of their strong faith.  They become better, wiser, more tender, and more fit for God’s service.  Perhaps more important is that like Job of the Bible and Frankl of the last century, they become an example of triumph and hope for the rest of us. Often you can see a special brightness about them and a certain light in their eyes that makes them an inspiration to the rest of us who struggle in our search for wisdom.

Corrie ten Boom, another Holocaust survivor inspires me with her wise words, “In darkness God’s trust shines most clear”.  Yes, my friend, there is a God and He is right beside us even in the depths of our suffering. That may well be exactly when he is closest to us.

About the author

Betty Streff

Betty Streff began her career as a customer service representative for a large corporation in Omaha. Four years later she found herself to be a farm wife in a small rural community with limited opportunities for women. After a humbling self assessment, she listed her assets as talents for sketching, sewing, and the natural ability to strike up conversations with complete strangers. Using these and her optimistic nature, she began stitching up some bibs and pillows for a craft show, who wouldn’t?

Over the next 25 years she became a serial entrepreneur obsessed with studying faith, spirituality, leadership, motivation, and management as she developed her businesses. Betty has spent the last few years working in corporate America in the hospitality and manufacturing world and she continues to immerse herself in the study of what makes people tick.

The explosive growth in the relatively recent science of positive psychology fascinates her. Betty devours everything she can find on the subject and is especially intrigued with people who thrive no matter the circumstances and in discovering ways that happiness and optimism can be learned. She is currently exploring ways of sharing and cultivating the exciting possibilities with both individuals and businesses.

She and her husband Steve have been married 45 years and are blessed with 2 incredible daughters, 2 fantastic sons-in-law and 6 amazing grandchildren.

2 Comments

  • Great job of a tough subject! Quote for you: “If all our misfortunes were laid in one common heap whence everyone must take an equal portion, most people would be content to take their own and depart.”
    ― Socrates

  • Thank you Gail, I bled for this one, it was tough yet I felt so compelled to address it. I was happy at the affirmation I received today in the homily on this Transfiguration Sunday,