He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Friday, April 27, 2018

Living on the Mountain: Getting My Own Switch

Living in Appalachia has its benefits.

At the old house on the hillside where I lived for the first few years of my life, I made many good memories.  Playing in the dirt underneath the porch and sliding down the hillside on a flattened cardboard box still brings a smile to my face. 

But not everything does.  My punishments, for instance.

I can remember being told to go outside and get my own switch.  I also remember dreading it. 

If I picked a switch that's not going to give me a painful switching, then my mother might just pick a worse one.  If I picked a switch that would give me a painful switching, then...well, I get a painful switching.

I'm sure I deserved it, in retrospect.  I was probably doing something that my mother needed to correct me for, or she just needed to set a crucial boundary for my behavior.

I'm grateful for that.  But in hindsight, the most valuable lesson I've learned from getting my own switch is more basic.

I've learned over the years that one thing I do a lot is make my own problems worse, not by changing the outcome of a situation, but by agonizing over the outcome.  My attachment to not enduring the inevitable painful consequences of my decisions simply adds more suffering to the experience.

In a delightful twist, it is precisely my attachment to not enduring painful consequences that adds unnecessary suffering to them.

For example, I have on many occasions at my job gotten angry about things that happened that had painful consequences for me, my team, and those we serve.  Did my getting angry at those things help in any way to create a better situation?

No.  It was the constructive things I did afterwards to make the situations better that reduced suffering for all involved.  My anger just created additional suffering for me and those around me.

I was getting my own switch, agonizing over exactly how I was to be caused pain by the consequences of something that was for my own good (and the good of others), were I just willing to learn from it.  And when I did learn from it, I did benefit, and so did those I served once I learned the lesson of the situation.

It's often the case in life that we get our own switches, that we bring more suffering upon ourselves by the addictions we choose, by the attitudes we adopt, and by the company we keep.  In our feeble efforts to avoid suffering by diving into our addictions, or adopting a cynical attitude, or seeking the company of people who are pleasant to be around but are not leading us to healthier behaviors.

Let us instead begin to follow the example of Christ, who embraced suffering so that others might benefit.  And I will be trying to follow my grandfather's example, living humbly on the mountain with the Lord instead of worrying about many things.  No more getting my own switch.

I pray that we all learn to stop getting our own switches, and instead focus our energy on learning the lessons life is teaching us so that we can be good and faithful servants of Him who made the mountains and valleys both.

The above is a picture I took of the mountainous skyline in Kentucky while traveling for my maternal grandfather's funeral.

No comments:

Post a Comment