The Secret of Our Suffering

This entry is part 24 of 33 in the series 99: a journey
A head-and-shoulders picture of Andrew Chirch with water in the background

I’m Andrew Chirch, an Interfaith advisor and coach. 99 is a special weekly podcast series where we meet for 9 minutes to regroup, re-center ourselves, and prepare for the work ahead.

Subscribe here to listen on your favorite podcast app, or you can use the player at the top of this post. A transcript is below.

What is your purpose in this life?

Why have you had to suffer so much?

How is it that some people have opportunities fall in their lap while you’re over here working twice as hard for half as much?

It’s about justice, really, isn’t it?

All things being equal, everybody should have to suffer a certain amount, sure, but then everyone should also enjoy a proportionate number of life’s pleasant surprises too. Right? At the end of the day, it all should balance out.

Says who?

I spent some time with a wise teacher recently and I shared part of my life’s story. In case you’re wondering, I know suffering. I trust you do too.

When I shared with this teacher that one of the things I was on a quest to discover was my life’s purpose. Certain that I was getting close to finally finding it, I told him how frustrated and anxious I was – right on the precipice of some kind of enlightenment. As he listened patiently and nodded along, I thought I could see his eyes get a little bit teary and a kind of knowing smile come to his face.

One of things I love most about this teacher is that he doesn’t ever tell me I’m wrong. (of course one of things about him that I don’t like is that he doesn’t tell me that I’m right, either).

Anyway, when I finished, he answered my story with one of his own.

“When I was 9, my mother told me what I would be in this life. She was sure of it. This made me so mad that I swore I’d never be that thing. I married and raised a family, and worked in a career that had nothing to do with that field. Finally, when I retired, I had to admit that I felt a calling to go back to doing what she said I would.

Not being satisfied, I prayed and thought about it for months. I kept asking, “What am I here for? Do I have a purpose in this life?” and one day, I finally got an answer.

At this point, the teacher paused and looked at me and said, “do you want to know what answer I got?”

“It’s none of your business”

Confused for a second, I said, “wait… it’s none of MY business?”

“No, he said, it’s none of MY business. That’s the answer I got. My job is to just show up and pay attention… To do what I know how to do the best I can. That’s it.”

One of my favorite quotes – in fact, I keep it in various places where I see it all the time – is by this Sufi Pir – a sort of spiritual leader of the Murshid order: Hazrat Inayat Khan said, “I journeyed in pursuit of my own self. I was the traveler, and I am the destination.”

Many people wonder why they are here… why they suffer, why bad things happen to good people. This is like a kind of quest – for understanding, or for God, or to find enlightenment.

What if the answer to your questions – what if the journey and the destination are the same thing ? What if the whole point of this life is in how you SHOW UP?

There are some who believe that heaven and hell are simply made up constructs – a carrot and a stick to keep us in line. Others believe that they’re realities that we face after we leave this world.

But what if they’re both right here, right now?

What part are you and playing? Are we building this world up or tearing it down?

Am I so caught up in wondering why so-and-so has it so easy that I lose sight of my own gifts and blessings?

Are you showing up for this world in a way that future you will thank you for? Or are you more caught up in what you DON’T have? In who DOESN’T love you, or what isn’t good enough?

I think that message my teacher received was meant to be shared. I think that’s why he got it, and now I’m sharing it with you.

Why aren’t you as successful as you think you deserve? Why does life keep dumping on you? Why does your brother or sister get all the breaks while you’re left with the scraps?

What if “It’s none of your business”?

Or put another way: It’s up to you to find out. Maybe one day, future you will finally understand. Or maybe you never will.

Whichever it is, you’re here now. You have skills now. You have love now. You can make a difference now.

As the saying from the Talmud goes, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

May we be so lucky as to understand why, and may we realize that knowing why is a luxury. Until then, may we remember to simply show up, look around us and be grateful for what we do have and have the grace to share it.

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