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Choosing Joy in Long Term Suffering

  Suffering is nothing new in our world.  Many people are spared from it for periods of time, but rarely is anyone spared from it for their entire lives.  Other people, it seems, have more than their fair share.  Our attitudes cannot change the circumstances that we're in with regards to suffering.  Trying to be happy, for instance, will not make your cancer go away.  It will, however make it easier for others to be around you and increase your ability to fight the cancer valiantly.  This is all easy to say and easy to advise when you are not in the midst of suffering.  But how do you genuinely chase joy in the midst of hardship, pain, sorrow and suffering?  Many elderly people have had much practice at choosing joy throughout their lives and watching and learning from them can be astonishing as they brace themselves for the diagnosis that no one would have wanted.  Some, however, seem to grow bitter toward the end.  The legacy they leave is less than stellar and sadly, sometimes, relief if felt by their loved ones when the pass on because their character changed so much for the worse when they were forced to endure pain and suffering.  So how do we do our best to be sure we can stand in times of suffering? 

  1. Ask for help before you are overtaken.  Most people wait and endure until they can no longer stand up under the struggle.  Whether it is financial hardship, the death of someone close, or severe health problems, it is never a good idea to wait to ask for help.  When the problem or hardship arises, begin speaking with those close to you.  You needn't go on and on about the issue, but be open about how you're feeling.  They will most likely offer prayers and help.  If not, be brave enough to ask.  Not everyone will be available to help, and that is not bad.  It is better for them to say no than for you to wonder if they might be available or why they aren't offering.  This gives you a more realistic support base.
  2. Practice gratitude.  Be sure to be tremendously thankful to anyone who is able to help.  In fact, being grateful in all circumstances is a good practice whether you're enduring hardship or not. Gratitude helps us to take our focus from the problem and shift it away to the good things happening in our lives.  If we have a debilitating disease and are still able to look around with gratitude that we have a roof over our heads with clean water and heat, we are also able to see other good things.  Focusing hard on how bad things are in our lives does not make the bad things go away, it just makes us feel worse about the situation.
  3. Outward thinking.  We must think about our circumstance, and I'm guessing you won't have a problem doing that, especially if you experience pain.  But thinking about it & trying to solve it can become such a mental spiral that we can get locked into it, unable to escape.  So set a period of time that you will think about and try to solve it.  When the timer goes off, think about something or someone else.  If you know of someone else going through a hardship, see if there is something that they need that you can provide, or if there is something you can do for them. If nothing else comes to mind, write them a quick note to encourage them that you're thinking of them and drop it in the mail. 
  4. Outward doing.  If you have any extra time, even if you're in the hospital bed, practice this thinking and doing for others.  You may be able to write notes, knit or crochet, whittle, send magazine clippings, make phone calls, paint, etc. so use what you know how to do FOR someone else. 
  5. Rest.  When you're having days that are just too much, give yourself permission to rest.  Be thankful that you have the option of rest.  If you're unable to rest because of pain, ask for something to help you sleep.  Your body doesn't just desire rest, it needs it.  If your suffering is such that it makes this difficult, you may need help with it.  Use a heating pad, try aromatics, try melatonin.  If you're able to sleep, go back to #2 and practice gratitude.  If you're not, go to #1 and ask for help from a doctor. 

  Bubbly giddiness is not a practical expectation for anyone experiencing great suffering.  Steadfast, stalwart joy is, however, achievable.  It doesn't even mean you have to smile.  What you are being asked to carry is not light or easy.  When people are lifting heavy things, they rarely smile, but it doesn't mean that we need to be bitter inside.  We can carry it until we're able to set it down again.  We can carry it without allowing it to crush us and make us hateful and spiteful.   So let's carry it with joy and let it be an encouragement to others who are carrying things far heavier than our own loads. 

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