Charlie's Blog: Requisite Suffering

12.28.2014

Requisite Suffering


I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'
MUHAMMAD ALI

In the popular mind, fortitude is considered a masculine trait. This is not to say that women don't have fortitude or can't have fortitude. Giving birth is an excruciating ordeal. Tending to children while also holding down one or more jobs takes great reserves of fortitude. Men have no monopoly on fortitude, but fortitude is seen as being a manly trait instead of a feminine trait. Why is this? It really comes down to the attitude towards suffering. Women and children see suffering as optional while men accept suffering as requisite. Where women and children avoid pain, men embrace it. Men see pain and suffering as unavoidable facts of life.

Women and children live in a distorted world provided by their husbands and fathers. Because someone else suffers, they enjoy rewards without suffering. For instance, the wife wants new cabinets in the kitchen. She goes shopping on Saturday, and she returns to see the new cabinets in the kitchen as if by magic. So, the remodeling urge moves to the bathroom where she wants a garden tub. The husband informs her of two unpleasant facts. The first is that the larger tub will require tearing out a wall and the loss of a walk-in closet. The second is that he doesn't have the money in savings to actually buy the thing because he just spent his wad on those new cabinets. Pouting ensues. In the clash between the wife's wishes and reality, reality wins as it always does.

Men are aquainted with reality. It usually happens when the hammer misses the nail and strikes the thumbnail instead. Men learn physics the hard way until they start listening to the older and wiser men. They also learn about the trade off. This is the simple reality that getting one thing often involves the sacrifice of another thing. For instance, you can have the peace and quiet of the country or the ease and speed of the city. You just can't have both. To have one automatically cancels out the other as a consequence of logic. This is requisite suffering.

Requisite suffering comes as an inescapable consequence of every choice we make. For instance, I had to choose between the lower cost and convenience of a small truck versus the greater power and utility of a larger truck with four wheel drive. There are times when I wish I had the larger truck. But when I am at the gas pump each week, I appreciate the smaller truck. I can't have both things in one vehicle.

Scammers will try and tell people that they can dispense with this requisite suffering. A great example of this would be the paleo diet that tells people that they can eat what they like, lose weight, and be healthy. Pseudoscience and people secretly starving themselves come in to sell people the snake oil. Meanwhile, the vegan doctors come in slim and healthy with the science and truth on their side. But here's the thing. Being vegan is hard. When you eat out at a non-vegan restaurant, you will discover how incredibly hard it is. But I am willing to sacrifice the steakhouse to keep from having my thoracic cavity cut open to fix the clogged arteries in my heart.

Trade offs are part of life. I see these trade offs in the media all the time, but no one wants to face the reality. For instance, the media tells women that they can work 60+ hours a week and also be supermoms at home and not suffer burnout and/or their kids calling their daycare attendant "mommy." The fact is that women can face the regret of not being there for their kids, or they can face the regret of their career opportunities drying up as years spent at home burn giant holes in their resumes. So, they toss out that mystical word called "balance" as in "work/life" balance. I have seen what working moms endure, and I can tell you that the balance is non-existent. It is something they tell themselves to blunt the reality that the juggling act is one slip away from disaster. This usually happens when a child becomes sick at school on the same day that a big project at work is due.

If all of this seems demented and sadistic, it is. But most of the pain is self-inflicted because people would not accept requisite suffering. Attempting to escape from requisite suffering does not result in less suffering but more suffering. This would be the husband who also wants to be a player on the side and winds up finding maturity too late in the grown up world of divorce court. You can't have it both ways.

Jesus talks about requisite suffering in the Gospel of Luke:

“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.
LUKE 14:26-33 NASB
Being a Christian does not allow you to have your cake and eat it, too. I encounter this a great deal in my evangelism.  I meet people who are keenly interested in the Catholic faith, but this interest wanes when they count the cost of what they will have to give up. Some are in illicit second marriages. Others are shacked up with their lovers. Still, others don't want to alienate themselves from their Protestant family members. But I respect these people more than the Catholic woman I know who divorced her Catholic husband, stole another woman's husband, and still goes to Mass and takes communion as if it is no big deal. At least those who stay away do not compound their errors by also committing sacrilege with the body and blood of our Lord. This is why I say it is better to be an honest sinner than a hypocrite. This hypocritical woman wants all the benefits of being Catholic but none of the requisite suffering that comes from obedience.

Anyone who tells you that obedience to the Lord does not come at a cost is a liar. It costs. Jesus repeats this over and over in the Gospels. He never sugarcoated it. To follow Him literally meant poverty, hatred, torture, and martyrdom. This is why people should count the cost of things.

We count the count of cost of things in all sorts of worldly affairs. The most dismaying thing is when people are surprised when they actually have to pay these costs. They act as if some trick has been pulled on them, but the only trickster is their own self-delusion. People are good at counting rewards but not at counting costs. They want to eat cakes but not bake them. They want big houses but not build them. They want to make big money but not earn it. To the extent that these people are successful in avoiding requisite suffering, others suffer in their place. These are the parasites and scam artists of this world, but dishonesty comes with its own requisite suffering. And the deceitful will pay dearly.

All of this may seem depressing, but it shouldn't be. The only time suffering should be depressing is when it goes unrewarded. For most suffering in the world, this is the case. This would be the hardworking and faithful husband who comes home to be cursed at by his wife and kids because he doesn't make enough money to pay for their toys, cellphones, and designer clothes. This would be the faithful wife who tends to home and children only to discover the internet porn on her husband's computer and the burner phone in his jacket pocket with texts to his mistress. The fact is that we are more often punished instead of rewarded  for doing the right thing. This is why you have to be a Catholic Christian in order to be a saint. To suffer for doing good is such a monstrous injustice that it must be made right in the world to come. But if you don't believe in Christ or His kingdom come, all you are left with is the game of tit-for-tat. The result of this game is that the good inevitably become indistinguishable from the evil.

If I could paraphrase Muhammad Ali, we should suffer now and spend eternity in Heaven with Christ. Everything we suffer in this life is worth it. As St. Paul put it, we are to run the race as to receive a prize. Heaven is really there. Christ really rose from the dead. All the promises are true. So, let us persevere in our daily trials. Let us accept the requisite suffering that comes from discipleship to Christ. Let us not lose sight of the eternal reward that makes this life bearable in all its agonies.