Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Suffering Teaches Simple Lessons Of Life

July 26, 2004

Recently I interviewed a woman who has chronic progressive multiple sclerosis. She has lost the ability to walk. She has had to quit her employment. There has been a lot of pain and suffering connected with her failing health and abilities. She has two unmarried daughters in college.

She shared with me some of her thoughts on how life has changed since the onset of the disease. The highlighted points are quotations drawn from other sources.

The ABC’s of life. "You learn to get back to the basics, the ABC's of life... family, friends, God, doing for others. I've learned about myself. You find out what is important in life. It is the simple things."

- To love all mankind a cheerful state of being is required, but to see into mankind, into life, and still more into ourselves, suffering is requisite. - Richter

-Adversity has ever been considered the state in which a man most easily becomes acquainted with himself. - Samuel Johnson

Not as materialistic. "Position, prestige and power can go in the pot. Too many people are chasing the almighty dollar. Sure, money is important, but not a great abundance of it. My goals have changed. I'm not as materialistic as I used to be. I want to do something to help someone else."

Making relationships count. "I am really choosy about the people I spend my time with. Superficial relationships are not important. I want to go below the surface."

"I appreciate the time I spend with my daughters. All three of us are more patient. Patience -that is the biggest thing I've learned. I want my daughters to be happy where they are right now and to like themselves. That's all. I expect less and enjoy them more."

- Rub your eyes and purify your heart -and prize above all else in the world those who would love you and who would wish you well. Do not hurt them or scold them, and never part from any of them in anger; after all, you simply do not know, it might be your last act . . . and that will be how you are imprinted in their memory!"

- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Living for today. "I'm more accepting of life as it is right now. I can't get into the future. I stay right here in today. That is my main coping tool - 'staying in today.' I have a different time frame. I am more spiritual. This life doesn't last forever. I see this life as a learning experience. When I get through something hard, I say, 'I made it through this one; what is the next one?

"I treat life as a learning experience. There is so much to learn. I try to share what I learn with others.

"There are blessings with the disease. If I had to give back all I’ve learned these past few years to trade for my health I wouldn’t do it."

Divine help. "I have a strong relationship with my Father-in-Heaven. I've had to learn to develop that relationship and depend on it . . . to allow it to happen. Father in Heaven does love me."

- There is a simple truth which one can only learn through suffering: in war not victories are blessed but defeats. Governments need victories and the people need defeats. Victory gives rise to the desire for more victories. But after a defeat it is freedom men desire and usually attain. A people need defeat just as much as an individual needs suffering and misfortune: they compel the deepening of the inner life and generate a spiritual upsurge. - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Getting and giving support. "I've found support from neighbors, friends, and relatives through all the things they've done for me. People have given beyond what they should have done. The gifts are not just material things. They have brought gifts of time, love, and themselves. They are still giving.

"It is easier to give than to receive. I've had to learn how to take. I let my friends be of assistance. I'm better (at taking help) than I used to be.

"I can listen. I have more time to be aware. I try to listen to what is being said. I can share. A lot of people can't share their joy and their pain. They especially can't share their pain."

- To complain that life has no joy while there is a single creature whom we can relieve by our bounty, assist by our counsels, or enliven by our presence, is to lament the loss of that which we possess, and is just as rational as to die of thirst with the cup in our hands. - Fitzbourne

Appreciation of gifts. "I appreciate the miracle of walking. Each step is a miracle. I no longer take miracles for granted."

- I also believe that the probability of our likely appreciation for anything of which we have once been deprived is directly proportionate to the magnitude and gravity of that deprivation, as well as to the imminence of its being permanent. -Rex Lee, former Solicitor General of the United States and former president of Brigham Young University.

The future. "I have too much to life for. I have daughters to marry …and then grandchildren. I want to make a difference in the grandchildren’s lives."