Every week day, I pack up my two kids and drop my husband off at a train station about 20 minutes away. Then we pick him up again at the end of the day. We commute with my husband, sort of. He commutes much farther to NYC… but we commute too.
The other day we were picking Bodie up from his train and it was later in the day than usual, the kids were crankier than usual, and there were no parking spaces at this particular station. So I’m just doing the carpool circlin’ thing and I get this text…
“Train’s stopped, not sure for how long.” or something like that. Ugh.
I thought, noooo not today! Not on this day that is already late, and with fussy babies and no parking places! Typing it out now it sounds silly. That text could have been something MUCH worse, it wasn’t so bad, but at the time it seemed pretty bad.
So I start thinking to myself, I could go to the drive through Starbucks and get a really delicious caffeinated treat. Yum. Oh I don’t drink coffee anymore. Well, when we lived in LA and I was pregnant, I used to go to the McDonald’s drive thru (I know, worst mom ever) and get those little McD’s soft serve ice cream cones… I could go get one of those now!
So I sat there, thinking about treats I could give myself to make myself feel better about the suffering I’d have to endure waiting for my husband. And then I stopped. Because that seemed so… kind of wrong.
I thought about suffering. I thought about why we suffer. I thought about sacrifice. I thought that actually, I was being pretty silly and my husband’s train would start moving soon. We would all be just fine. I didn’t need to panic and go find something to make myself feel better right now.
This small example is relevant on a much larger scale. We humans sometimes have this constant need to fill our lives with joyful things; to avoid sacrifice, to escape our troubles and sorrows both big and small. But those escapes, the things we fill that hole with are never enough. They always make us feel worse. We can only truly be fulfilled by accepting our suffering both big and small (and really, really tiny as this ended up being).
Christianity delves deeper into this suffering and sacrifice and rightly notes that by doing this, we are drawn closer to God, and to goodness. In practice, offering up my own little sufferings and not trying to fill my life with things that bring me immediate joy only to disappoint me later has brought many cathartic tears, and much true happiness.
On that day at that train station, it turned out that I had misread my husband’s text. He had said that the train was stopped, but he didn’t think it would be for long, and they weren’t far away. He came home, the kids didn’t totally fall apart.
If I’d sought out immediate gratification, perhaps the caffeine or sugar would have made me cranky. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been back in time to meet his train arrival. Perhaps lots of things, but it definitely wouldn’t have made me truly happy. Being willing to endure suffering gives us peace, real peace, peace that is not rocked by minor upsets or even major problems.