The Pain Of It All

Donald Miller’s book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, is about life as story—how to live and tell a good one. Necessarily, some chapters deal with suffering. He paraphrases Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl, who believed that,

Suffering, as absurd as it seemed, pointed to a greater story in which, if one would only construe himself as a character within, he could find fulfillment in his tragic role, knowing the plot was heading toward redemption. Such an understanding would take immense humility and immeasurable faith, a perspective perhaps achieved only in the context of near hopelessness.

In Frankl’s thinking, pain indicated that life had meaning. “If one could have faith in something greater than himself, pain might be a path to experiencing a meaning beyond the false gratification of personal comfort.”

In my thinking, pain is just pain sometimes. We suffer because we don’t have a choice. The doctors don’t know what’s wrong. The medicines don’t work. The circumstances can’t be changed. Our bodies won’t stop aging. The list goes on.

There are lessons to learn from some pain, but not all. A burn teaches you not to put your hand in the fire, but what does an earthquake teach? Suffering isn’t always a consequence; rather it’s a condition of being human. It’s universal, it’s unrelenting and it stinks!

To keep from becoming a fatalist or nihilist, one has to assume—along with Frankl and Miller—that life is “heading toward redemption.” When we can’t find meaning in the suffering, we try to look beyond it to a higher purpose.

But as noted, this takes “immense humility and immeasurable faith.” And who has the energy for that when one is in pain? Nobler souls than me. All I can manage is to take one day at a time, to stay engaged with others, and to hope that this life will all make sense in the next.

9 thoughts on “The Pain Of It All

  1. Your comment that Miller is a Christian, so you don’t think there is any bad faith. I think becaused Miller is a Christian there is some bad faith. Frankl did believe in an after life. It all boils down to purpose. ” No purpose, no life.” Love, friends and family are so important but they don’t represent a very uniquie kind of purpose we need to exist and be productive in this world.


  2. Good to read your thoughts again, Mike. I am typing single-handedly after breaking arm and rib in fall while backpacking. Comforted by “It is well, with my soul.” Some Job-like boils on my leg. All self-inflicted! Check out notes of counselor friend with Multiple Sclerosis at website. hopeful TG

  3. hi big brother………..

    i remember (even at my age) that before Christ entered my life, you said that “Life is like a tapestry – we only see it from the back side – strings running here and there, many colors running together, quite a mess of knots and twists – something we cannot fathom making sense……….but God sees it from the other side – where the end results of hard work comes to life in a picture – the one that He sees for us being in”.
    you were a wise man back then mike, and even wiser today – listen to your own advise – you’re the one i go to for this kind of knowledge because i know that God works thru many vessels………you being one of them.
    i love you

  4. I’ve never been in the same boat as you’ve been… in fact sometimes I think you may even have your own Ocean! My heart breaks when I think about the frustrations & struggles you must face each day that most of us never even consider.

    That being said, however, I think you’re right on target with your closing sentence. Although I might be “oceans away,” the times in life when I’ve had intense struggle, emotional pain, and significant frustration — that’s what carried me through: one day a time, and focusing on the innumerable blessings (usually people) in my life.

    When Z and I pray together at night, we always thank God for an amazing family and the opportunity to be so close by. I’m sorry there’s nothing we can do for the pain, but if we can at least provide humor, smiles, prayer, love, gratitude, and affection, we’ll be doing our job to help. 🙂

  5. Hi, Mike…
    Responding to a message like this one of yours is always tricky for those of us who have not gone through what you’re going through–or have never gone through anything nearly as harrowing. But with the admission that I really have no clue what it’s like, might I venture a response?… (To invite people’s responses to our thoughts is, after all, why we blog, isn’t it?)

    I agree with both Frankl and Miller about life having meaning, heading toward redemption, and in fact, being woven of the fabric of narrative. For my part, I am convinced that there is a plot being written–in fact, a mosaic of plots, made up of each of our stories, fitting together into the one big Story.
    But I also can appreciate your honest response to such thoughts, even if it is a bit sardonic.
    I would challenge the implication of your second to last paragraph, though. Do Frankl, Miller or people like me, necessarily believe in the narrative meaning of life only out of bad faith– i.e., as over against the alternative of meaninglessness? Does the idea of a higher purpose only come into view “when we can’t find meaning in the suffering?”
    Pardon me, if I’ve misread you on this…

    1. Miller is a Christian so I don’t think any “bad faith” is involved. Frankl was a Jew and I don’t think he believed in an afterlife, but I could be wrong. I think the “higher purpose” is what religions are all about finding. The stronger we sense it, the easier it is to bear suffering in this life.

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