Love and Suffering

ValentineWhich would I rather write about when given the choice between love and suffering?  We took a break from reading Revelation this week and studied suffering.  Specifically, how Christians must have perseverance since suffering is a part of life.  Argh!  Maybe it’s because Sunday was Valentine’s Day, but it occurred to me that love and suffering often go hand in hand.

A friend of mine once said, “Never love anything that can’t love you back.”  In my experience, this axiom is brilliant.  Let’s face it; those shoes I love simply can’t love me back.  For long term wellbeing, our relationships with things must be very different from our relationships with people.

What happens when people don’t or won’t love us back?  What happens when our love isn’t reciprocated?  Suffering, unrequited love is the source of a lot of suffering.

Then there’s that command to love thy neighbor and loving neighbors can be really, really hard, especially when they’re ornery.   Do you think I could love a neighbor to death? I jest.  Actually, the idiom love you to death is an expression of unconditional and lifelong love.  For the record, my neighbors are all great, but there are communities of people that continue to cause global suffering and yes, they are very difficult to love.

What does it mean to love?  Several years ago I read a book about medieval prayer written by Kathleen McGowan after she researched the early Gnostic Christians extensively. Among her findings were six different Greek words to express the English word love.  I know it’s impossible to define love, but in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I’ll share what she uncovered.

  • AGAPE is a joyful, unconditional, spiritual love. It’s the kind of love expressed by God toward humanity, the highest, purest love.
  • PHILIA is a brotherly, friendly, mortal love. This is the love we have toward our siblings and true companions.
  • CHARIS is the kind of love or devotion we have toward our parents and when Jesus refers to God as Father, he is evoking charis. In Greek it means grace and kindness and is the root of the word charity.  Charis describes a kind of nurturing love that drives service.
  • EUNOIA means beautiful thinking in Greek and is a kind of passionate love that drives service toward social change, community service. This is a love for the world and for humanity.
  • STORGE is the kind of love we have for children and pets. Greek for affection, it is described as a sweet, innocent, playful and pure love of tenderness, caring and empathy.
  • EROS is a romantic, sexual love. Eros is the sacred union of two bodies

Notice how there is no Greek word listed to describe the love of stuff.  I was thinking that perhaps when I say, “I love that painting!”, I don’t actually love the painting.  In this case, the painting is the result of a person’s talent and it is the person who is loved and admired for their skill.  Is this semantics or am I onto something? Do people use the word love carelessly?

Let’s tackle suffering.  Suffering is the loss of someone or something that causes physical, mental, emotional or spiritual pain. The fear of loss makes us suffer as well.  As a first pass, to minimize suffering, drop fear.  I have learned that worrying about something never changes the outcome.

Earlier in this post I introduced an axiom; never love anything that can’t love you back. As a second pass, to minimize suffering, focus more on relationships and less on things.

Then there is self inflicted suffering that is a result of our own less than stellar actions. As a third pass, take responsibility for your actions and suffering is minimized.

Looking over the list of six ways to love, the connection to suffering is evident.  We suffer when we lose people we love.  When a death is sudden or from a horrible illness or from violence, it is especially difficult to process and can leave deep mental and emotional wounds and scars.  My family has endured a lot of this kind of loss and what I know is this: love, faith, and time gets one through it.  Loss is an opportunity for spiritual growth and spiritual growth minimizes suffering.

The physical suffering accompanied by war and hunger can be hard to understand. The eunoia in people is what motivates positive change: more eunoia and less greed please.  We’re back to love thy neighbor and yes, sometimes it is very, very hard.  I need to work on my eunoia.

Consider the relationship between love and suffering in your life and ponder the following questions. Does love cause you to suffer? Does fear cause you to suffer?  Does suffering deepen loving relationships?  Does suffering destroy your relationships?  Why?

Answers sometimes escape me, but I am certain that love feels a lot better than loss.  Here is another axiom. The less one has, the less one has to manage.  Simplifying is liberating and I just love giving things away.  Now where would that kind of love fall within the list of six?

We read a lot of passeges this week to answer our homework questions about suffering and I found one of them especially beautiful.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.  Colossians 3: 12-14


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