A Ph.D. in Suffering

As I examine the landscape of our country this morning, particularly on the heels of this week’s election, I can’t help but acknowledge the pervading sense that nobody won.  In fact, a quick overview of any media outlet today seems to underscore one thing for certain: All of us are suffering.


Those of us who were giddy, looking forward to the reception of the first female president of the United States, or those of us who, while not so excited about the democratic nominee, but still took solace in the expectation that the current national agenda would, at least, be maintained, if not progressed, are now suffering the often difficult blow of experience loss, and the uncertainty accompanying this particular exercise in straw grasping leaves us yearning for a firm place for foot planting.

Then there are those of us who, for more than a year, have recognized that while we would certainly benefit from supporting the more conservative candidate, we committed to sacrificing our own personal gain, and went “with her” instead, in order that those who comprise traditionally marginalized people groups might get a “fair shake,” only to discover that our willingness to relinquish said privileges does not necessarily equate to our power and ability to do so.  Today, these are the ones who suffer from the realization of the disempowerment that is assigned to us in a very specific way by a system that does NOT ALLOW us to disavow it or our privileges within it to the extent that we would find ideal.


Finally, there are those of us who rooted and voted for the candidate who won the election, and it seemed like the next thing to do was to celebrate the win!  However, the combative discourse unfolding, the discord between us and the ones we otherwise deeply love, value, and appreciate, springing up from the feelings of utter disenfranchisement that they are experiencing/perceiving is shrouding what we thought would be an exhilarating experience in animosity and a different kind of loss: the loss of friendship and relationships, once so close to us, in exchange for a barely tangible “win,” distant and untouchable, to say the least.  We are suffering, and the confusion of our mixed emotions further complicate our process to unravel exactly what we’re feeling.  We’re left asking ourselves, “How has what was supposed to bring a feeling of celebration resulted in such hurt, grief, animosity, and pain?”

Indeed, we are ALL suffering.  And the further we are down this trajectory of suffering, the worse off we are.  The folks in the first few groups can identify the source of their suffering.  They know it’s because their candidate did not win or their agenda is blown.  It definitely still hurts; but they are clear and can articulate exactly from whence the pain emerges.  However, the more rooted the pain is in one’s own access to power and privilege, characteristics that have historically been lauded as a gift, the harder it is to decipher, determine, identify the source of it.  Suffering that emerges from a less detectable, less identifiable source, creates an indefatigable pain because the pain is coming from a source that has been culturally normalized as an asset (having and maintaining power and privilege is “supposed to be a good thing”), a source we have been accustomed to associating with “winning.”


Those suffering from an abundance of power and privilege have also not been afforded many opportunities to practice suffering, and as such, they are not well equipped to handle it.  We often struggle to muster the resilience necessary to cope with suffering, and it is in these circumstances that having depth of relationships across boundaries and at the margins of society becomes crucial.  People who have been chronically subjected to suffering have had so much practice in suffering that they have developed a resilience that does not make them invincible, but does give them the capacity to cope with suffering in ways that far surpass the ability of those who have little to no practice in suffering.  When people either choose a life that requires suffering or are thrust into a life that demands it, and they have no models or tools regarding how to endure it, they wind up even worse off than those who have significant experiences with suffering.

Oh, but to have deep relationships with those who have Ph.D.’s in suffering!  If those of us with significant privilege and entitlement are willing to create deep and meaningful relationships with people who don’t look and sound like us–with people who may not naturally cross our path (we might have to stretch ourselves a bit to find, build, and maintain these relationships), we might then avail ourselves the new talent of managing and coping through suffering.  This is a gift that traditionally marginalized people groups have to offer the traditionally privileged and entitled, but in order to receive it, we must be willing to do life TOGETHER.  And we can’t wait until we need to know how to suffer to learn how to suffer.  We can’t wait until we need the relationship to start building it.  It is only when we have proactively BUILT GENUINE RELATIONSHIPS with folks who hold Ph.D.’s in suffering that they become willing participants in our learning how to endure difficult seasons.


We are all suffering.  This is a difficult season for us all.  I imagine that it won’t be the last of its kind.  So I encourage us all to reach across boundaries, discover ones who are different than us, and lean into those relationships, that we might become more capable of enduring the inevitable suffering that comes packaged with living courageous, abundant, and sacrificial lives.  Selah.

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