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Sustaining During Suffering By Focusing on the Beloved

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Have you had a “but even so” moment yet? Kobayashi Issa was an 18th century haiku master. In my favorite of his poems he wrote: “The world of dew is, yes, a world of dew, but even so” As a lay Buddhist priest, Issa believed that the best response to suffering was stoic detachment, freeing oneself from the impulse to cling possessively to impermanent things. In his haiku, then, he acknowledged the way he was taught to see the world–as ephemeral dew. And yet with that last line he pushed back against this worldview at the same time. Given his experience with suffering, the pushback is understandable. As Pico Iyer recently wrote in the New York Times: “Issa had seen his mother die when he was 2, his first son die, his father contract typhoid fever, his next son and a beloved daughter die. He knew that suffering was a fact of life, he might have been saying in his short verse; he knew that impermanence is our home and loss the law of the world. But how could he not wish, when his 1-year-old daughter contracted smallpox, and expired, that it be otherwise?” No matter how neatly we arrange our worldview, suffering scrambles it. This is true whether we’re founding life on Buddhist principles or secular sensibilities or any other persuasion. And it’s true of Christian convictions, too. What does the Christian do with her belief in an all-powerful, all-loving God when heartbreak crashes in? This may be the toughest challenge to the Christian faith claims. It’s certainly the most personal. I read a fascinating report in Wired about a study in pain management. In experiments, scientists found that we survive pain better if our minds are occupied with thoughts of someone we deeply love. Exactly so. In the Christian worldview, we process suffering by focusing on the One who suffered for us. Of all the world’s religions, only one describes God as experiencing the ruin of the world as a man. But on the cross he was doing more than just identifying with the ruin of the world: He was carrying away the sin that ruined the world so that he could begin the process of making all things new. Focusing on the Beloved makes pain more manageable while we wait. References: Pico Iyer, New York Times, “The Value of Suffering.” Brandon, Keim, Wired, "How Love Makes (Some) Pain Go Away.”

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1 Justin Halloran = "Since Tom mentioned Buddhist principles regarding the topic, I would like to point you to one Buddhist perspective on why bad things happen to good people. Teaser alert: it ain't all karma. I would love to hear from my other Buddhist friends on this one. Thank you!"
2 Cary W = "Not only does the death of God's only begotten Son offer us comfort in that He knows personally our suffering as human beings, but having been raised from the dead, as He predicted He would do, He overcame sin, suffering and the ultimate loss, death.  In Him we have life everlasting, from glory to glory, kingdom upon kingdom."