Saturday, January 23, 2010

Charity: How Can We Learn to Suffer Long and Be Kind

In my previous resolutions posts this month, I tackled the "what" and the "why" of charity as a manifestion of long-suffering in kindness. This week, I am turning to the "how" - which, ultimately, is the most important thing to consider, since theoretical understanding without practical application is useless or even damning.

NOTE: Just as I said in my first resolutions post this month, I want to state right from the beginning that I do not believe we should try to learn long-suffering kindness by encouraging or causing unnecessary suffering in our lives. Suffering occurs naturally, and I believe developing charity has nothing to do with the volume of one's suffering - particularly if that volume is a direct result of one's own actions in producing suffering that could have been avoided. Some people suffer more than others simply because they are jerks - and I mean that as charitably as possible. I say it that way to make a simple point: Suffering, in and of itself, is not a good thing; what we learn and take from it can be. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." Let's not invite more than is natural and necessary.

I have to admit up-front that I don't think I've gained any new or mysterious insight into this topic this month. What I have learned, however, is what I have learned over and over again as I have embarked on this resolution process:

Just as it is impossible to come to know the Master whom I do not serve, it likewise is impossible to acquire a godlike characteristic toward which I do not extend focused thought and effort - or which I am not aware consciously and regularly. These things simply must become internalized and habitual - a "new nature", if you will. For that to happen, it must be at the forefront of my mind on a regular basis.

This requires a commitment of TIME - even if not distinct and separate time on a large scale. In other words, while it is impossible for most people to focus long stretches of time on endeavors like concentrating on the acquisition of godly characteristics, it is important to focus one's mind on the pursuit in such a way that it is on one's mind whenever possible. For example, my resolution to suffer a little more in kindness this month might leave my conscious mind while I am immersed in an editing project at work or on the phone with a prospective student - but, in order truly to have a lasting impact on my character and soul, that pursuit must be close enough to the surface to rise whenever it is needed. This includes those times when that editing project (or the demands of others regarding it) and that prospective student create a situation in which it might be easy or natural to react too quickly and not in a kind manner. The more the endeavor is on my mind when it can be considered in isolation, the more likely it will come to mind when it otherwise would be crowded out by the numbing normalcy of life.

Let me share two examples from this month in summary - one positive and one negative:

1) As I have written in other posts throughout my resolution process, it is hard to be long-suffering and kind with those who are closest to us - probably for no more profound reason than that they give us the most opportunities to suffer and be unkind (as we do for them). With them, it is necessary to "endure to the end" - with an "end" that often is not foreseeable.

This month, I have done a much better job of reacting less quickly and more kindly to my youngest daughter - who, at a precocious seven, is prone to test my patience. I have thought of her often as I have considered this resolution, and so, naturally, I have reacted more slowly and kindly on many occasions. I have had moments where I have reacted too quickly and not kindly enough, but I have done much better this month.

2) The details are not important here, but I failed miserably in a situation for which I was not prepared and which happened late at night when I already was tired and "unfocused". If nothing else, this caused me to realize how far I still have to go to conquer perhaps the most difficult aspect of long-suffering in kindness - reacting to the FIRST instances of actions that upset me. On a long-term basis, it is harder to be long-suffering and kind when someone continually does and/or says things that might offend, but I have come to recognize that the initial suffering caused by someone for whom I have not built a reserve of love is the suffering that tends to cause me to react the most quickly and least kindly.

Unfortunately, those exact situations often are the very events that form first impressions and contribute to the difficulty of forgiving and loving in the future. If a first impression is one of love and kindness, it is FAR more likely that on-going difficulties will be handled in a patient and kind manner than when that first impression is negative. Thus, it is critical that long-suffering in kindness by internalized in such a way that the INITIAL suffering caused by strangers and associates by met properly - not just the on-going suffering caused by those we love and forgive regularly.


Practice and focus and diligence.

That's all I have, and I don't want to complicate it more than that. It really is about TIME.


Anonymous said...

My,oh my,you set the bar so high Papa.The first time?Wow.Still so hard for me to get it right the umpteenth time that the first time seems so way out of reach.Although I really see your point.Times like this I am so grateful for both redemption and repentance.Work in progress...

Papa D said...

Anon, I didn't try to set the bar there. I was talking about the hardest extremes - the ideals. *grin*

Yeah, and it really does highlight the power of an Atonement. All of us are works in progress - as long as we are trying to progress.