Suffering and Self-Preservation

The other day I heard someone say, “The more we are consumed with self-preservation the less attention we give to self-evaluation.” The less attention we give to self-evaluation the more blind, and even calloused, we become to the ways in which our words and actions affect those around us. We begin to rationalize our choices and convince ourselves that we somehow deserve all that we take, either for ourselves or for our children.

Self-preservation is tethered to self-absorption and indulgence. It is our response to the fear of being hurt and going without. We begin to grasp at things in the attempt to silence that fear—money, food and drink, experiences, attention, love—but in the end we find that the more we grasp at those things the harder it is to silence our fears and the more miserable and resentful we become.

In his autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain, Thomas Merton wrote, “The more you try to avoid suffering the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most.”

I’ve been re-reading the Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis in preparation for a book study I am co-leading in a few weeks. In the book the narrator comes across a Ghost plagued with self-absorption who cannot let go of her fear of what people might think of her if she looks a certain way. The Spirit, tempting to lead her to the mountains where she will find infinite happiness, says to her:

“An hour hence and you will not care. A day hence and you will laugh at it. Don’t you remember on earth—there were things too hot to touch with your finger but you could drink them all right? Shame is like that. If you will accept it—if you will drink the cup to the bottom—you will find it very nourishing: but try to do anything else with it and it scalds.”

Joy isn’t just granted to some and not to others. It doesn’t just happen upon you because you finally have enough money or gained enough respect or look a certain way or found love. Joy is the product of gratitude, gratitude learned in the midst of suffering.

Author: Rebekah Durham

Rebekah Durham lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her three children.  She is a graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary and has written for numerous publications. She is an avid reader and in particular an admirer of C.S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, G.K. Chesterton, Henri Nouwen, and Dorothy L. Sayers (in no certain order). She'd also blindly follow Miss Marple (Agatha Christie's famous spinster sleuth) anywhere she wanted to go.

20 thoughts on “Suffering and Self-Preservation”

  1. I do not disagree, in principle. “…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5: 3-5).

    But the victims of abuse could easily misinterpret your post. For them, self-preservation is not remotely related to self indulgence. It is a matter of life and death.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. As the survivor of an abusive relationship, I do see what you mean. I would never want someone who struggles with the trauma of abuse to feel that their need for self-preservation must be surrendered in order to obtain holiness. That is a different type of self-preservation. It’s never our loving Father’s will for us to remain in situations in which we are abused. I’d be interested to hear if you have suggestions as to how to communicate that truth within this post. Thanks again for your comment. I hope you are doing well.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. I think the answer to your question is to be found in Scripture. “No weapon formed against you shall prosper, And every tongue which rises against you in judgment You shall condemn.
        This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, And their righteousness is from Me, Says the Lord” (Isaiah 54: 17). When we are maligned (as we should expect to be, if stand up for the truth), we can trust God to defend us against the slings and arrows of the world or to uphold us despite them.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Mitch Teemley and commented:
    My Featured Blogger this week is Rebekah Durham of the site forty-one ten. Rebekah, who lives with her three children in Atlanta, Georgia, is a graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary, an avid reader, and a student of great thinkers like Merton, Lewis, Sayers, and Chesterton (all heroes of mine, as well). She writes on “life, parenting, suffering, grief, finding grace and growing in the faith.” What’s not to like? Nothing. I’ve yet to read anything of Rebekah’s that didn’t somehow bless or enlighten me.

    Visit her now and see why!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Beautiful – and very timely for me! The Thomas Merton quote especially hit home as I learn to work thru fears blocking me from more fully applying myself to what I feel called to do. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad it was meaningful to you. It’s been my experience that every time I feel called to do something fear is lurking around the corner trying to prevent me from doing it! Whatever it is you feel called to do, God would not have called you to do it if He did not think that you, with His help, were capable of doing it. He is faithful and will strengthen you and guide you through it! I’m saying these words just as much as a reminder to myself as an encouragement to you. Ha!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A powerful post. I agree with Anna W. … I think part of the solution is a healthy (believing) community. It is the power of the Holy Spirit in a loving and caring environment, who speaks life into the battered soul, who makes the distinction between acknowledging trauma and guarding against self-indulgence.
    Without the Word, the Way, the Truth, and the Life we stand little chance against the schemes of the enemy.
    THANK YOU for this today. It spoke deeply to my heart!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The more you concentrate on something, the more of that something you receive. The brain does not recognize the word “no” or “Don’t” of “not” so if you are afraid of getting hurt, so you DON’T want to suffer, Brain goes immediately to Want to Suffer. So suffering comes no matter what you do to avoid it. Then you go to the good things–you’re looking for things that you DO want and suddenly you are intrigued enough that you LOOK for the things you want. Whatever you concentrate on, you notice more in your life. Do you want to avoid the pain of hot tea in your lap, or are you thirsty? Which aspect are you looking at?


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