If you are not a fan of David Brooks you should be. David is a New York Times columnist who seems to be hitting it out of the park on a weekly basis in his columns. In his most recent editorial (April 7), he says this:

People shoot for happiness but feel formed through suffering.

He then makes it clear that while suffering may produce good results, it isn’t something that has intrinsic good value. We may cherish the results, but we never cherish the suffering. Here’s what Brooks thinks about what suffering does (or can do) to us:

But the big thing that suffering does is it takes you outside of precisely that logic that the happiness mentality encourages. Happiness wants you to think about maximizing your benefits. Difficulty and suffering sends you on a different course.

What course? He goes on to suggest that suffering provides the opportunity to (what follows are my interpretation of his points):

  • Remove self-deception
  • Acknowledge limitations of personal agency
  • Answer a calling to a greater good (We are not “masters of the situation but neither are [we] helpless”)
  • Recognize and submit to the “moral drama” of life (Brooks says pursue “holiness”)

But lest you think he portrays this deepening of self into selflessness as easy and as a way of healing from the ravages of suffering, he reminds us that,

Recovering from suffering is not like recovering from a disease. Many people don’t come out healed; they come out different.

Yes, different. The challenge I find is holding, “This is not the way life is supposed to be” together with an acceptance of difference without falling off into the errors of embittered denial or hopeless fatalism.

I encourage you to check out some of his recent columns. His The Art of Presence is a fine reminder of how to be with suffering people.


0 # Marilynn Grimm 2014-04-21 14:56
Dr. Monroe,

I just can't bring myself to call you DR. Phil. (Success messed him up in my opinion) Yours is one of the few blogs I subscribe to that I actually read almost very day !

I am a semi normal Christian female. I lean toward the emotional side and can slip quickly into poor pitiful me mode whenI'm tired. Your blog almost always brings me out of my funk and makes look beyond myself.
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0 # 2014-04-24 08:15
Can you tell me the biblical proof for this statement: "We may cherish the results, but we never cherish the suffering"?
Having been going through a long bout of suffering from Lyme disease, I would agree that the fruit produced is good but the suffering itself is hard. I've heard Christians quote from Philippians saying we are to rejoice in our sufferings but I am not so sure this is what the verse means. If it does then I fall short.
The fruit for me has been understanding God in a different way than I knew Him when I had good health. The fruit is also the grappling with the details of scripture that I never noticed before. The fruit is learning more about Heaven and how good it will be to see Him face to face. The fruit is having compassion for others, having time to hear them..really hear them. The fruit is not trying to fix them but be with them. The fruit is a confidence that nothing can shake my security that He is risen and therefore His Word is true. But the suffering itself I cannot say I like and even when I am on the other side of treatment, I doubt I will still even say I liked it.
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+1 # Philip Monroe 2014-04-25 13:25
Karen, I think we are in agreement. My line about cherishing the results (the empathy, the wisdom, etc.) does not mean that we cherish the suffering. No, to like suffering would be insane. Even our Lord says, "let this cup pass."

Am I missing your point? I think what I am saying agrees with your response.
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0 # 2014-04-25 13:37
We are definitely in agreement. I wanted to know your thoughts in the biblical support for it since I so often have people point out a plethora of verses trying to claim that God wants us to be rejoicing in the actual suffering rather than in the fruit or in the fact that no matter how bad it gets, God is on the throne, He is good, He has won the victory and He has a spot waiting for me in Heaven where there will be no suffering.
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+2 # Philip Monroe 2014-04-29 09:38
Karen, I think we have evidence best from how Jesus handles his distress in the garden. He is in distress and shows it. There is no rejoicing there. Further, we are told to cry with those who cry. And that singing happy songs to those in grief is like pouring vinegar on soda (Proverbs 25:20). Jesus also weeps at the death of his friend even though he knows he will raise him from the dead in the next moment. Yet, we do see that Jesus, for the joy set before him.... How do we understand these seemingly opposing things? Well, Jesus can suffer, cry out and know at the same time that his suffering is for our good. I think one BIG difference is that we do not know what good our suffering is for and so we do not have this insight. We can say, "yet will I trust you" but I don't think we have to say the suffering itself is good. No where does it say that that in Scripture.
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