A Migraine to Help Appreciate Life
I suffer from migraines. Thankfully they do not strike regularly and they do not last longer than a day. But when they do, I am completely debilitated. The pain is intolerable, I cannot stand, let alone walk, I have no balance, the room I'm in spins wildly; any kind of light or movement is like needles in my brain, and I throw up repeatedly regardless of what's in my stomach. There are times in every attack that I am convinced that this time, I will actually die, that my head must now actually split open. And then there the are times when I wish it would happen sooner rather than later.
Now I tell you this not to gain any sympathy (although I am always up for some sympathy). I tell you this because of 2 posts I read recently. One where the author says, "I cannot get my head around the Christian thing, I gave it a good go this year, but it's an 'accept suffering' story"
And one where another author says, "I swim, focus on the texture of grass on my feet as I walk to dive in.Â Focus on the feel of the water.Â Living molecules, LIFE, is making this relaxation possible.Â What do we know exists?Â Life."
Now, what interests me in this post, is the mindset of the Stoic.
1 Peter 2:20 says, "For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God."
Now I am not for one minute suggesting that the first blogger's suffering is self-imposed, I'm also not suggesting that it is unjust. I have no way of knowing either of those two things.Â But I am looking at this verse in scripture and I'm thinking how easily it is taken up as agreement with the mantra of the Stoic, "life is pain and you must have an 'accept suffering' story if you want to survive - though ultimately you will not survive."
But in truth the Stoic takes this verse (if he takes it at all) both too far and not far enough:Â The Stoic neglects to just love, and focus on the grass, and meditate. His stoic duty divorces his attention from the beauty of the moment (whenever it happens to be beautiful - which is a lot more often than he would think) and forces his mind toward what is to be endured (even if nothing happens to need enduring at the time).
This is what lead a man as brilliant as Bertrand Russell to say something as stupid as "The secret to true happiness is to realize that life is horrible, horrible, horrible."
But the Stoic also goes too far - endurance, says Peter, is gracious in God's site. But in the sight of the Stoic it is not gracious, it is essential, it is natural. And when the Stoic is not suffering he does not know what to do with himself, he does not just loose his pain; he looses his identity.
Now, as far as I can see, there are two types of the Stoic. I'll call them 'Stoic Classic' and 'Stoic Zero' (or 'Stoic Lite' if you prefer).
Stoic Classic is an acquired taste (I would imagine, though I never did acquire it). It means finding a certain pleasure - or at least a certain meaning - in suffering. But it must be real meaning as an end in itself. The true Stoic cannot merely tolerate suffering as a means to some greater gain. He must, by necessity, find in suffering a deep and abiding answer to the questions of life.
If that is what the first blogger means by saying that Christianity is an 'accept suffering story' then she is dealing not with Christianity at all, but with Stoicism; and specifically 'Stoic Classic'. If she means by 'accept suffering' just that, then she is dealing with Life generally, not with Christianity specifically, and we could happily encourage her with the fact that along with the acceptance of suffering she must also accept love, poetry, exotic tastes and fragrances, the feel of water and a myriad of other simple and vast pleasures.
'Stoic Lite' has the form of Stoic Classic but without the addiction, or the energy boost one gets from pseudo-meaning. The Stoic who chooses the 'Lite' product assumes that all of their own suffering is unjust. And that others (including God) agree, out of respect of their personal choice, that all of their suffering is due to their innate goodness, a natural, though unfortunate product of their rigorously correct stoic worldview. The Stoic Lite is a classic prima donna.Â Of course I assume that she is not dealing with the Stoic Lite philosophy, because then she would have to look inward, and she is looking outward. But it's good for us to know that it is there, anyway. Stoic Zero is a lot worse for you than Stoic Classic, in the long run. It forms a sort of cancer of the self; because naturally a lot of suffering is actually self inflicted.
So my migraines probably have a portion of self-inflictedness, but what else could their purpose be? They are there to remind me to appreciate the little majesties of life because they are so numerous that I end up taking them for granted.Â And enduring these afflictions as happily as possible is a gracious thing in God's eyes.
Now I have to go to the dentist tomorrow for the first filling in 15 years. But enduring it is not to my credit, because I only have myself to blame.