Attaching Meaning to Our Suffering – the Most Important Step

Sometimes we can be so overwhelmed by the negative turns in our lives, we become blind to the purpose they serve.

Every life is characterized by a series of events and circumstances. We might label some as ‘good’ or ‘positive’, while others might be labeled at ‘bad’ or ‘negative’.

Years ago I participated in a group exercise for a leadership team – each individual in the group made a timeline of all of the major events of our lives whether we consider them good or bad.

After we did this we were given small squares of construction paper. On each square we wrote some words or drew a picture that characterized that particular event in our lives. We were then given a large piece of paper and many colored squares. We then took our squares of life events, and, intermingling those with colorful squares, created a paper quilt. We were also asked to leave the last few rows of our quilt blank. After our quilt was done, we used our quilt to tell the rest of the group the story of our lives – the positive and negative things that happened.

I don’t want to just skip past the most significant part of this exercise. We ‘read’ our quilts to the rest of our group. We told them our story.

There was power in telling our stories out loud.

Some of the group had never fully shared their stories.
The key was this: As we told about the events or circumstances that we considered negative, we were asked to also share what we learned from each of those events, and how that affected the rest of our ‘story’.

Sometimes we can become so overwhelmed by the negative turns in our lives that we are blinded to the purpose they serve.

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl states

“In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”

Author Donald Miller explains it like this

“The process of redeeming your negative turns comes from Dr. Viktor Frankl, who believed one way a person gains the existential experience of meaning is by taking each bit of suffering they’ve experienced and finding a redemptive perspective toward it. His exact thought was this: Once we find a redemptive perspective on our suffering, it ceases to be suffering.”

Once you have looked at your story and taken steps to redeem your suffering, what’s next? How does this help one find their dream (again?)

Read more at The Next Step (in Attaching Meaning to Our Suffering)



The Value of Tension -Why We Should Embrace It

You know that feeling in the pit of your stomach – something’s just not right, but you can’t put your finger on it? Maybe it wraps its fingers around your mind in the dark just as you’re starting to fall asleep, and the thoughts are swirling in your head. Or maybe you can feel the tight grip on your heart as Sunday afternoon turns into evening, and your weekend is coming to an end and going to work on Monday morning looms over you. Or it might be the dread you feel when you think of a certain relationship. Maybe it’s just a general feeling of dissatisfaction – you try to distract yourself, but it keeps creeping back in like fog over a lake.

Discomfort. Stress. Tension.

Often our first reaction when we feel this sense of ‘something is not right’ is to try to just get rid of that anxiety. We look at our phones or computers. We watch television. We eat. We drink. We distract ourselves with whatever we can to just not feel that discomfort.

What would it mean to look at that discomfort in a positive light? As we are on this journey of finding our dream, our purpose, our meaning – what if that tension was a tool that we can use to help guide our path, to push us in the right direction – or in any direction?

Tension is valuable because is tells us that something needs to change. It is a necessary tool in our overall mental health – it is a sign of the gap between “. . . what one has already achieved and what one still has to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become.” (Frankl)

If we only seek to discharge that tension and remove the discomfort, we lose out on the most important purpose of the tension, stress, or discomfort.

The motivation to change.

We don’t need a life free of tension. We need a life in which we struggle for a greater purpose. If we seek to simply ‘feel better’ by alleviating our discomfort, we miss the chance of striving towards a call to purpose, a deeper meaning which only we can fulfill.

Author Jon Maxwell says,

“Growth stops when you lose the tension between where you are and where you could be.”

What would it mean if we embraced the tension? Or at the very least did not attempt to immediately rid ourselves of it? That discomfort is our heart’s way of telling us we are not where we should be.

Journaling exercise:

Think back to a time this week when you felt stress/discomfort/tension.

What did you do? Did you try to get rid of that tension or ignore it?

Can you identify a meaning that is waiting to be fulfilled? Or is this tension pointing to an area of needed growth? What other meaning or message can you learn from this time of experiencing tension?


This ONE Thing is the Secret of Life

I love this scene from the 1991 film, City Slickers. Billy Crystal plays Mitch, a man whose marriage is stale and his job is unfulfilling – he’s in the middle of a midlife crisis – so he goes on a cattle drive with his also dissatisfied friends and his wife tells him to “Go find your smile”. As he is contemplating life, he gets advice from a crusty old cowboy named Curly, played by Jack Palance.

Curly: You know what the secret of life is?

Mitch: No, what?

Curly: (holds up his leather gloved hand and points his index finger) This.

Mitch: Your finger?

Curly: One thing, just one thing.

Mitch: That’s great, but what’s the one thing?

Curly: That’s what you’ve got to figure out.


What gives our lives meaning is a going to be different for each individual. Each one of us has a different dream, a unique calling, an individual passion and set of gifts. We have our own set of life experiences and circumstances that have shaped who we are and who we might become. We must figure out for ourselves what gives our life deeper meaning.

In his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Viktor Frankl talks about the importance of finding the ‘why’ that gives our lives deeper meaning. His book recounts his experience during the WWII as a prisoner in a concentration camp. He states that as the men in the camp defined a deeper meaning for their lives, their suffering became purposeful. Those who had lost their faith in the future were doomed to mental and physical decay. He describes a difference in prisoners who felt that their life had some type of meaning, and a difference in their attitude and ultimately, their survival. As they looked at what life expected from them, rather than what they expected from life, their life took on a deeper meaning. For one man there was a child whom he deeply loved, and he knew would be waiting for him in another country. Another man was a scientist who had written works that could not be finished by anyone except him. Frankl explains

“We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We need to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—hourly and daily. Our answer must consist not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answers to its problems and to fulfill the task which it constantly sets for each individual.

These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment. . .  No man and no destiny can be compared with any other may or any other destiny. (It) is unique and different for each individual.

A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how”. “

Figuring out the ‘why’ is another piece of the puzzle in finding your dream. But you must answer this for yourself. No one can tell you life’s meaning, or label you with a purpose or calling, or tell you what your dream is or should be. YOU are the one who must figure out THIS ONE THING, that which differs ‘from man to man, moment to moment’.

What is your ONE THING?

You can find 10 questions that might help by clicking here. If you haven’t read the rest of this series “Dare to Dream – Finding Your Dream (Again) a list of previous posts right here . And please follow this blog and our Facebook page so that you can get the rest of this #write31days series!


Your Life as A Story

In previous posts we talked about defining our life’s dream (or purpose) as a pursuit of pleasure versus a search for deeper meaning.

I love the word picture of one’s life as a story.

Every story has a cast of characters and a plot line. Every story has a message.

If your life is a story, who are the characters that play a role in your story? What is the plot or message of your story? Is your story heading where you want it to be heading? Is your story a search for pleasure or a search for deeper meaning? If your life is not the story you long to be telling, what needs change? This series will help us look at how to live a better story.
Author Donald Miller talks about this concept in his book “A Million Miles in A Thousand Years”. When his book “Blue Like Jazz” was made into a movie, he literally had to think of his life as a story. He shares the lessons he learned as he talks about how to live a better story. His business, Storyline, has an upcoming conference to help people live a better story and develop a life plan. You can find out more about the Storyline Conference here.

I love this illustration.

“If you watched a movie about a guy who wanted a Volvo and worked for years to get it, you wouldn’t cry at the end when he drove off the lot, testing the windshield wipers. You wouldn’t tell your friends you saw a beautiful movie or go home and put a record on to think about the story you’d seen. The truth is, you wouldn’t remember that movie a week later, except you’d feel robbed and want your money back. Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo.
But we spend years actually living those stories, and expect our lives to be meaningful. The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won’t make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either”

Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life

Today’s questions:

Think about the story you are living: the characters, the plot line, the central theme, the direction you are heading.

Are you living the story you want to be living?

If not, what might need to change?

Join the conversation on our Facebook page, or send me a message below