Imagine two people in a bar. They have heard each other’s sad stories so many times they no longer listen. Of course each wants the other to stop talking so that he can tell his own mournful story. They are both very much identified with their suffering. They seem caught in a vicious circle endlessly repeating their depressing song.
Compare this with a friend of mine who told me that being an alcoholic was the best thing that happened to him. How so? He treasured the way in which that condition forced him to work on his spiritual life, and his relationship with others.
I have heard other people talk about how much they treasure the difficult things they have experienced in life.
We all have had to go through the experiences of childhood which involve moments of hurt and pain. Many people have felt unloved or abandoned at some time in their growing up years. Add to this the inevitable pains of normal life, and the result is a deep reservoir of things for which we can feel sorry for ourselves.
But Maurice Nicoll says that the first thing we have to sacrifice is mechanical suffering. This leads to a change of being. To understand what he meant consider the things people typically complain about: No one appreciates me; my spouse doesn’t understand me; I have horrible physical problems; I don’t get the credit I deserve; and on and on.
People sometimes seem to cling to their suffering, carrying it as a badge of honor.
There is a poignant moment recorded in the Gospels where Peter, talking to Jesus, sounds as if he is full of self pity.
Then Peter answered and said to him, “See, we have left all and followed you. Therefore what shall we have?” Matthew 19:27
Peter would never have chosen to go back to his life as a fisherman once he had experienced the true joys of the spirit. So how could he feel sorry for himself?
The task involves noticing the pay-off we seek for our suffering, and then seeking to understand the positive things that the suffering blocks.