The Bible says it and life proves it – everyone will experience some hurt. It’s only a matter of when, not if. Most of us have an internal GPS that is programmed to avoid suffering whenever we can, but that is not possible. Life happens! You receive a diagnosis of cancer. A spouse cheats on you. A child is born with autism. A car accident takes the life of a loved one. A chronic medical illness drains what little savings you have. Suffering is part of life. And with it comes both struggle and opportunity. No doubt that we will be shaped by the suffering we experience. And that can, and often does, make us better… much better. Here are 5 positive ways suffering can shape you.
Suffering will help you have a greater understanding of those around you who are experiencing the hardships of life. When you look at people, you will often see things that others do not. When a team member has a personal hardship like a struggling child, a difficulty in their marriage, or a major health crisis, you will not only SEE it… you will FEEL it. It is that feeling that creates the connection of empathy.
2. Emotional Muscle
You don’t build physical muscle without some pain and stress, and you don’t build emotional muscle without some suffering and hardship. While suffering can sometimes cause us to overload and break, it can also make us stronger… much stronger. When we realize that we were able to endure it, we are stronger for the next time suffering emerges in our lives, and we also serve as a source of hope for others who are feeling “I will never survive this.”
Suffering, more than anything else, will teach us the importance of having a team around us. In the Bible, one writer put it this way: “Pity the person who has no one to help them” (Ecclesiastes 4). Taking an extra shift. Giving a ride. Providing a meal. Cutting the lawn. Giving a gift card. Or simply saying, “How are you doing and what can I do to help?” The power of team is never understood at its greatest level until we experience suffering.
When a major life challenge hits, we can learn about the importance of prioritizing. In other words, what is most important in my life, family and job and what is least important. Spending time on frivolous activities and timewasters is no longer an option. Survival requires focus on those things that are most important while allowing things that are least important to either be deleted, delegated, or at least postponed.
In the Harvard Business Review article “Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?,” Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones stress the importance for leaders to be more vulnerable. They note that by doing so, those around us will see that we are “genuine and approachable—human and humane.” Too often leaders live in costume, like every day is Halloween. Suffering provides us with the opportunity be transparent. When wisely managed, such vulnerability will increase trust, comradery, and an opportunity for those around us to realize we too are just mere mortals.
Jay Desko is the Executive Director of The Center and serves on the Senior Leadership Team at Calvary Church in Souderton, PA. Jay brings experience in the areas of organizational assessment, leadership coaching, decision-making, and strategic questioning. Jay’s degrees include an M.Ed. in Instructional Systems Design from Pennsylvania State University and a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Leadership from The Union Institute.