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1/31/11

The Cessation of Suffering

Last summer, one of my mother's neighbors lost a teenage child in a very sad and very unexpected accident.

In many ways, the community, particularly the LDS community, (as the child was Mormon,) rallied around the family. They held memorials, and people tied ribbons around their trees, lampposts, and street signs. A constant reminder of the unanticipated loss.

Last week, in a unit on World Religions, my students and I learned about Buddhism. We studied The Four Noble truths, the first of which acknowledges "The existence of suffering."

Now, every time I drive past a frayed and discolored ribbon, I remember the existence of suffering. Somewhere, someone lost their world.

Over time, however, it was interesting to see some people react to the mother's seemingly prolonged, and still very raw suffering.

"She just needs to move on,"

"She needs to remember that she will see her again"

"She should count her blessings, she was blessed with that sweet spirit for 16 years"

"She just seems to have lost her faith. It is so sad when people let these experiences shake their faith."

After a certain point, for many people, it becomes inconvenient to recognize the existence of suffering. It cuts into having fun, watching The Bachelor, and, dare I say it? Baking cupcakes.


For some Mormons, we struggle to reconcile the need to recognize suffering with our beliefs. How many Jack Weyland novels held a funeral where the only LDS person in attendance wore a "lovely shade of blue" instead of black? Symbolizing that Mormons are special because we don't need to mourn. Why mourn if we really have enough faith? We tell potential converts that our funerals aren't sad, but rather a "Celebration."

The Second Noble Truth emphasizes the "Cause of Suffering." In order to transcend this world, we must allow ourselves to identify the cause of our suffering. Whether it is loss of a child, or simply the pain of living in an imperfect world.

When many LDS people felt pain after hearing Elder Packer's conference talk, the response by the LDS community varied. Some acknowledged the existence of suffering: It is hard to be Gay and Mormon. It is hard to be politically liberal and Mormon. Sometimes, it is just hard to be Mormon.

But many did not want to acknowledge the existence of suffering. Suffering became a sign of a lack of faith, a lack of conviction, a lack of testimony in the Lord's anointed.

"It breaks my heart to see LDS people react this way"

(Responding to your own suffering, but not the suffering of others, does not lead to Enlightenment. It leads to conflict, which Buddhists recognize as a hindrance to personal growth.)


"They just need to get over it."

"If they can't follow the prophet, then they should leave the church."


"This is the sifting and of the wheat and the tares."

"Choose not to be offended."

In LDS culture, it is considered a commandment not to be offended. A simple request not to cling to hurt feelings turned into a complete disregard of feelings associated with pain or hurt.


I've always identified with the LDS Hymn "Where Can I Turn for Peace." Most notably because it recognizes the existence of suffering:

Where is my solace
When other sources cease to make me whole?
When, with a wounded heart, anger, or malice
I draw myself apart searching my soul?


Where, when my aching grows?
Where, when I languish?
Where, in my need to know?
Where can I run?
Where is the quiet hand to calm my anguish?

Anger, malice, anguish. Feelings that when recognized, allow us to draw closer to God, the quiet hand that calms us, teaches us what we need to know, and heals our wounded hearts. Is it possible that in our desire to be faithful and not offended, we turn away from opportunities to converse with God? When we acknowledge suffering, do we allow ourselves to find answers?

According the the New Testament, when the Savior found himself in the Garden of Gethsemane, he wanted his friends to stay awake with him. He didn't feel the need to prove his faith in a time of adversity. He did not see it as a lack of faith to acknowledge his pain. He did not feel shame for questioning a very difficult plan.

The Third Noble Truth tells us that "Elimination of suffering is possible." The Fourth Noble Truth tells us that we must find "The path to the cessation of suffering."


I submit that we must find that path together. Not just by hanging ribbons, but by staying awake with our friends during the long nights of suffering. Even when those friends doubt, disagree, and force you to question your faith. After all:

"Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule. "

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."

38 comments:

Brooke said...

Beautifully put.

heidikins said...

This is just beautiful.

xox

SeƱora H-B said...

This is so timely for me. Thank you so much for your lovely words today.

I know it's okay for me to suffer for a little bit right now. Do I want suffering to define my life? No. Do I want to give pain time to draw me nearer to God? Absolutely. It has and it will continue to do so.

Xan said...

Thank you for your post! I always love reading what you have to say. I constantly think to myself "wow, she gets it."

Colt said...

Simply amazing. I mean this in all seriousness if there were more talks like that in GC I would spend less time napping or playing Angry Birds.

I find myself continually drawn to the teachings of the Buddha. This makes me sound like more of a hippie than I am.

Geertje said...

I'm afraid I a not able to express all the things I would like to express because English is not my mother tongue.

I am a German Mormon and I do like reading your opinions. Would be interesting to discuss a few of them.

However, referring to today's post... I would like to mention that it is not only a Mormon issue to wait for people to overcome their suffering.

When a friend of mine was about to lose one of her children I seemed to be the only one who stayed. I did not consider myself to be the closest friend. I just thought I could not leave her when she needed support. And love. And hope. She is no member. It was me who held the funeral speech for her daughter. And today? Her friends stay away. They do not want to deal with death. Or with a mother that could speak about her daughter. Or even cry! The truth is: She doesn't cry often. But she is grateful when I keep in mind birthdays. We take care of the graveside. Sometimes we visit each other. No big deal!

Yes, I heard insensitive sentences in the church. Believing in/hoping for eternity does not take away all pain. Still, this is not only a Mormon problem. I think many people lose their ability or willingness to take care. To not pull or push. To allow different speeds.

smartalec said...

Hi, I read your blog, but I don't comment.

I'm leaving my hiding place to tell you I think this is beautiful.

Kristin said...

Sometimes I get thinking I'm so good at empathy and non-judgment that I stop being as good at them as I think I am. Thanks for the thoughtful post and the reminder that I can be better. Learning to respond to our own suffering and others' suffering like Christ did seems to be what life is all about.

Lisa Louise said...

Excellent point Steep. I have always thought it sad that so many LDS people don't even know how to truly mourn because they think that in so doing they are having a lack of faith. I wish more people thought along the same lines as this post!

BlueCodeRed said...

Fantastic post. Filled me with warm fuzzies :-)

Hillary said...

Beautifully done. I agree 100% with you here. As LDS people, too often it's an impulse to write off any feelings of sadness, despair, depression, etc. as a lack of faith. If we refuse to acknowledge those feelings, we are denying ourselves the opportunity to admit we cannot fix or cope with anything ourselves--we need to draw closer to Heavenly Father (isn't admitting powerlessness a step in 12-step recovery programs?).

I also agree that just because the outsiders to a tragedy or trial have moved on doesn't mean the people closest to it have. We shouldn't rush them or judge them or tell them how they should be living. Sometimes real faith is having the courage to let go of everything you thought believed, and destroy your foundation, so you can build it new and differently.

Daae' said...

One of my favorite posts of yours. It was very well put.

Alisha said...

GREAT post! I couldn't have put it better myself!

MJ said...

Very well written. Better than I could have done myself, I think; I have a tendency to pretty much tell people to pull their heads out of their arse. Not very good PR. :)

Thank you.

Katz said...

Thank you. What a beautiful post.

Tristin said...

As a student of contemplative psychology I'm somewhat biased, but I must say this is my favorite post of yours since I started following you. I love the snarkiness you normally use, but this one had a tone of authenticity that reveals a more tender side of you, MCB.

Thank you for allowing yourself to be exposed to us. You are practicing great dana by helping us all acknowledge our suffering. You are an unwitting bodhisattva, friend!

Shum Girl said...

Very good post.

Manette said...

All I wanted to say was that this is a beautiful post. Others have already written that, but I still wanted to say it.

:::k-laa::: said...

I stumbled upon your blog for the first time today. You've made an impressive first impression. :) Thank you for your courage and bravery in saying what you do.

Natalie | The Bobby Pin said...

I couldn't be more happy about seeing this post... so true.

I stopped dating a guy in college when Pres. Hinckley's wife died and I expressed sadness. The guy was all "eh, no big deal, he shouldn't be sad."

Then I experienced it personally after my divorce a friend told me that they were "over it." and so many told me to move on. I had been divorced a month. It was so painful.

You put in words what I have always wanted to!

Karissa said...

Indeed.

E said...

Thank you for this post.

Miss Molly said...

Why have I not found your blog until now? I'm in love.

You are a kindred spirit. Your blog is so honest, so clever, so funny...without a hint of bitterness. You ask questions from an honest place and want an honest answer as you explore the strangeness of Mormonhood and life. I love it.

I command you to be my friend.

Also, I have quite a bit to say about loss. I lost my daughter 2.5 yrs ago after she choked on a small bit of apple in our church parking lot. Pain, loss, homosexuality...I will never tire speaking of these things. (It might take me the entire month to count how many of my former boyfriends are gay. Part of the territory when you are an actress).

Ok. I'll say no more. You can read and watch at jacksonparkcity.blogspot.com

and

www.agoodgrief.com

People leave comments telling me to come visit their blogs and I find it self-promoting and strange at times. (Not always). But really, please come over. I would love to have you write on my grief blog.

She said...

It's interesting because I think that the place you would eventually arrive at with the Buddhist philosophy is similar to the place that Mormonism wants people to be at. However, Mormonism fails to provide a path for people to follow to get there.

nyorker218 said...

You and your opinions rock. I haven't read one I didn't like or laugh at yet. :)

Erin said...

This is one of the best blog posts I have ever read. And I have read MANY. Thank you.

Jess said...

I thought of this post yesterday in church when many of the ward members claimed that if we had enough faith like Nephi, we wouldn't have to feel devastating pain.

I almost ripped the dentures out of an old guy when he said, "my son mourned the loss of his young daughter for months, and I finally had to tell him that he didn't have faith."

My heart breaks for those who do not allow themselves to be devastated when devastating things happen. A large part of the reason we came to earth was to feel and experience pain. If we hide behind our "faith" so we don't have to mourn, we are missing an opportunity to truly come unto Christ.

I wasn't the only one a little bothered by the church discussion, and I told several of my friends to come read this post. You so perfectly say what I was mentally screaming in Sunday school.

sarah said...

This was so timely.

You are wonderful.

Thank you for blogging.

Bekah said...

I totally agree.

Rynell said...

This is the most beautiful post I have read (anywhere) in a long time.
Thank you.

Sara said...

I somehow got to this blog post today through my friend's sister's friend's sister-in-law's blog. Or something like that. I don't know if I'll ever be able to find your blog again, but believe me when I tell you there's a reason I eventually got to this post.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I can't even begin to express how much I needed to read this today. So I won't try. But again I say thank you.

r said...

I wasn't too crazy about it and I did not fully agree with it. It's a matter of people choosing to see what they want to see of LDS culture versus forgetting the entire basis of the gospel. It is not about your relationship with the church, but your relationship with god.

Any organization or large group will have it's own sort of culture out there and it will always have some negative aspects to it. It's a matter of what aspects does the person choose to focus on. I did not like the examples of the type of people she gave in the church. I won't deny they exist, but if they do, they are the type of members I choose not to be around and focus on many others who are not so insensitive.

And it's not only people in the church who are insensitive to people who have lost a child. Everyone is, who has never went through that experience because they don't know what it is like. For part of my pediatric class we had several parents come talk to us who had lost a child to give us advice as nurses of how to deal with people that will be in the same situation. It's not only members of the church who would make such insensitive comments.

That article could have been written from a completely different viewpoint. People who focus too much on LDS culture do not understand the deep meanings of the gospel.

Gail said...

AMEN!!!!!

Stephanie said...

"r" are you even talking to me? The examples "she" used, or the examples "I" used? "That" article, or "this" article? It sounds like you meant to post this elsewhere.

I'm very confused. I must not understand the gospel.

Anna said...

So- mourn with those that mourn right? It is so easy for us to forget, but that is highly important.

Deanna said...

I am reading this nearly a month after you posted it, but on a day perfect for me. Such a beautiful, healing post.

Marisa said...

Having lost my beloved mother, and best friend, to pancreatic cancer 3 years ago, I know the importance of grief. I am a BETTER more sane person for allowing myself to grieve. And anyone who would have the nerve to ask if I'm over it yet, will hear the response of, "I will never get over it. But I will get through it." Knowing the Gospel doesn't keep us from hurting. It helps us get through it. And you have to get through it. All the messy, uncomfortable parts of it to truly heal.

Vapid Vixen said...

I'm reading this on my lunch break at work and I'm tearing up like a total sappy tool. Ugh. I loved this post. Thank you.