The Spiritual Gift of Long Suffering
by Patty Reeves
Perhaps we might begin in considering the definition of long-suffering as patiently enduring lasting offense or hardship. How can we view and embrace long-suffering as a spiritual gift?
My story of long-suffering is connected with a family secret.
I grew up with a beautiful, loving mother, who also suffered with lifelong depression, due to an untreated trauma earlier in her life. I never understood why she slept so much of her life; and randomly flew into rages. She became more reclusive as the years progressed. Eventually, I learned as an adult that she self-medicated with prescriptions for pain medication received from several doctors. By the time I understood she was addicted, no one in the family wanted to force her to treatment. When I confronted her, she adamantly denied her use was a problem, in spite of her avoidance and withdrawal from life. I learned that addiction is a family disease that creates fear, worry and secrets that are mistakenly believed to “protect” the addict or avoid shame in the family.
Addiction is a disease that bears much stigma and taboo, which creates barriers for people to seek the help that can give them a new life.
I’ve known others who have fought this disease with the support of loved ones. Often they may need to “hit bottom” through painful events that give them the incentive to make the difficult choice to seek treatment, and learning their recovery is based on a power greater than themselves. I’ve learned about Al-Anon, where families and friends of addicts can find support and recovery for themselves. I’ve learned that when loved ones can speak the truth in love, barriers can be overcome. With love, patience and endurance, addicts can receive the help they need to find their true selves.
In my journey with loved ones with addiction, I learned God does not desert us.
As I learned to be open with folks I could trust, asking for prayers, others opened up to me about their loved ones who had struggled with addiction. I also obtained support from a therapist. When we are wandering in the wilderness of grief and pain, it is important to reach out for support from others who are willing to listen. Carl Jung frequently spoke of “legitimate suffering.” He taught that legitimate suffering may often be lived out in avoidance, denial or repression. We tend to do everything we can to avoid suffering, which may extend our suffering, rather than accepting it as a necessary part of life and finding support. Long-suffering can be a gift if we are willing to share it with others willing to walk our journey with us. Our pain may create more compassion within us to reach out to others. God’s love does not let our wounds be wasted.
Patty Rives, MSW, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker, living in Baton Rouge, LA. She provides consulting and clinical support in the areas of suicide prevention, intervention and postvention. She is also an international trainer for education and training in the areas suicide prevention and intervention. In addition, she is a trained Spiritual Director and. Patty contracts with LivingWorks Education, located in Calgary, Canada, as a Senior Training Coach and Team Leader for ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) and an Instructor Consultant for safeTALK. She is married to Rev. Gene Rives, pastor of Baker and Bethel United Methodist churches.