Is "suffering" a relative term? In other words, is it possible that what one person thinks is suffering, another might think is merely an obstacle? or even something petty?
Consider: we live in America. We might think not having phone service is suffering, having a bad hair day is suffering, having to walk to school instead of getting a ride the three or fewer miles is suffering. (God, help us).
In some parts of the world, people have no phones (no service or tech is available), people have no hair (having no hair helps keep lice problems down), people have to walk. Everywhere.
Who's got it worse?
It seems an easy questions, but maybe suffering has more to do with perspective than is does circumstances, at least in some instances. Oh, being threatened with torture or death, being forced to do labor, being starved--most of us would agree that these are circumstances of suffering.
Even so, perspective plays a part.
Here's how Tim Keller explains suffering in his book King's Cross:
"When the circumstances of life are giving you the desires of your heart, you're content. Suffering happens, we might say, when there's a gap between the desires of your heart and the circumstances of your life, and the bigger the gap, the greater the suffering."
He uses the phrase "desires of your heart." I used "perspective." Are they not connected? Isn't our perspective shaped in many ways by the desires of our heart? If this is right, it follows that if the desire of our heart is for trivial things, trivial things will cause us suffering? (Hmm. Maybe not.)
Ah, I don't know. There's so much more to suffering... and so little of it for most of us in America. I'm not sure most of us are equipped to give discussion of the matter.
Even so, here's the question: what causes you suffering? How's the gap between the desires of your heart and the circumstances of your life? More importantly, what's causing the gap? You?
[image from religiousintelligence.org]