Suffering is the Great Purifier
They startled me. Rubbed raw at first.
I have not wanted to be reminded of mom's anguish and suffering as she journeyed through pancreatic cancer, an unrelenting year of trial and affliction.
The suffering was more than just physical, but mental and emotional as well. Pancreatic cancer is a destructive power, insidious and fierce. The memories bring a deep, heart-rending pain that I want desparately to forget.
And yet, I know we will never forget. The suffering and pain are interwoven with her sweet life. Those memories can not be separated. Pancreatic cancer changed the journey, and in so many ways I have felt the assault of that suffering like a punch to the gut.
But as I read these words by Dr. David McKinley my breath caught. I understood exactly what he meant. The concept crystallized in an instant. Perhaps you would allow me to share his perspective on suffering:
"Suffering forces us to turn from shallow distractions and smaller irritations to consider the ultimate issues in life. It helps us get our eyes on something that really matters. Too much of our time is spent worrying about things that don't matter.
Suffering is the great purifier of the pettiness that often consumes us in life. One of the reasons some of us never develop into people of great character is because we constantly give our attention to the petty things of life. Commentator George Will says 'pettiness is the tendency of people without large purposes.' If you live with a large sense of purpose, then you're not going to let your life be burned up by all the little things that really don't matter. If we ever lose sight of what we are about for eternity, then we miss everything that really matters in life and we focus on all the wrong things. That's why Peter says (in I Peter 4:12-13) 'you are tested in the genuineness of your faith, so that it is more precious than gold.' Your life needs to count for more than just the petty trivialities that so often consume us. So suffering in life matters."
When faced with the enormity of a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, we immediately stopped worrying about the petty, small things. We focused on the really important matters...Life to the fullest, as much as possible, love shared at every turn, forgiveness offered, grace received, eternity prepared for... As it turns out, suffering really is the great purifier.
In this life, we will all face our "pancreatic cancer diagnosis" sooner or later. Whatever it is that brings suffering into our lives, let it also be the vehicle of opening the eyes of our souls to a larger purpose, to the things and the people that really matter. The trials that change the course of our life journey are the very things that turn our hearts towards eternity.
Does it change the pain? No. The scars wrought by mom's pancreatic cancer journey are here to stay. But this perspective does change my attitude towards the suffering. For if we had lost mom suddenly to a heart-attack or a car wreck, we would have missed the past year. A year where suffering wiped clean the petty trivialities in our lives and helped us focus on the unbelievable gifts of a mother's love, a families devotion and a Grace that softened each memory into one of beauty.