Choose To Let Go Of Suffering

by Mary Ann on May 14, 2015

I have a friend who is very dissatisfied with parts of her life. She is filled with disappointment, dissatisfaction, resentment and frustration. Some of her struggles are the same as mine and so I have shared with her how I have learned to be happy, despite the fact that life and people can be disappointing. Recently she said, “Well, you are just settling.” I thought about that and here is what is actually true – I am choosing to let go of suffering. I am choosing to be happy by choosing how I will respond to my circumstances.


Embracing Serenity

I love the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr. It hung in my childhood home for many years and I read it often. I didn’t understand it then but I do now.

The philosopher W.W. Bartley juxtaposes Niebuhr’s prayer with a Mother Goose rhyme (1695) expressing a similar sentiment:

For every ailment under the sun
There is a remedy, or there is none;
If there be one, try to find it;
If there be none, never mind it.

Serenity is the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled. How often have you longed for that state of mind? Did you know it is a choice and not the result of your circumstances?

Making the Choice to Let Go of Suffering!

My marriage has been a good one. I love my husband and he loves me. But there were things that caused me to feel resentment, frustration, dissatisfaction and disappointment. Sometimes I really suffered. I would hold on to those moments of suffering and bring them out whenever I needed to remind myself why I wasn’t as happy as I wanted to be.

As I got older and wiser I wanted to “see” what was happening or had happened, differently. One day while driving to an appointment I had this thought come into my mind – “You have suffered by choice”. I was stunned. What in the Heck did that mean?

So I asked, out loud. “Heavenly Father, I don’t get that at all. Show me what that looks like”; and He did. I had a memory come clearly into my mind. I could see my husband’s actions and mine and I saw that I was choosing to suffer. Yikes. I began from that moment to go back into my memory bank, to all the places where I had felt hurt, disappointed, etc. and examine them through this new lens. It became clear to me that I had chosen to suffer when I could have chosen happiness instead. My response to what was happening made all the difference.

41w90sLe8DL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Not long ago I read an amazing book, This Is Not the Story You Think It Is…: A Season of Unlikely Happiness by Laura Munson She went on a journey in letting go of resentment, frustration, and disappointment. She chose a path of happiness, in the most difficult time of her life. It confirmed what I had learned for myself, that we can choose happiness even when we are sure we are being wronged. (WARNING: This book does use the F word, a lot)

What Does Letting Go of Suffering Look Like?

Let me share some mundane examples of choosing to let go of suffering.

All my life I have wanted a bed with beautiful bed pillows. It wasn’t possible for me to have this in my family of origin for many reasons. When I was newly married it wasn’t a real option either. However, I did come to a place where I could have them. But, my husband doesn’t want to move a big pillow to take a nap, rest after work or when he goes to bed. He just can’t see the point. Mostly, he isn’t aware whether they are on the bed or not. He doesn’t see them. They aren’t even part of his thinking.

It has been a huge irritation to me for quite a few years. I always get up earlier than Don. He will make the bed but IMG_0437never puts the bed pillows on. When I come into the room I put them on and when I come in next his has been removed so that he can rest or nap. As I look at the gap where the bed pillow should be I feel resentment and frustration build up. It is disappointing!!! If he loved me he would put those pillows on the bed, right! Grrrr. You all know exactly how this feels!

So here is what I decided to do. I decided to stop suffering. When I get up in the morning, while Don is still sleeping, I make my side of the bed and I put my wonderfully beautiful bed pillow in place. When Don gets up he makes his side of the bed and his bed pillow stays propped against the wall. Every time I walk into the bedroom now I feel happy. There is the bed pillow I always wanted right where I want it, on my side of the bed. I know that some of you are saying to yourselves, “How tacky is that. She is settling!” I get it, but I have decided not to suffer. I am in control of my response. I am happy with my bed pillow and it feels great!

IMG_0442I have also always wanted beautiful towels in the bathroom that never get used. They just hang there and look beautiful. Raising 7 children and growing up the oldest of nine, you know that there were NEVER unused towels in the bathroom. So when all our children left home I thought “Now is the time”. Wrong! My husband just can’t understand the idea of unused towels in the bathroom or taking the extra steps to use the hook on the bathroom door. Here is how our one bathroom towel rack looks, one used towel, unfolded, drying. Very convenient and very “not decorative”! I have to say this caused no small amount of disappointment and frustration for a long time. I resented the fact that I couldn’t have what I wanted because my husband stood in my way! When I went into the bathroom I would see that towel rack with its unfolded towel and remember that I never got nice decorative towels and then I would feel disappointment and frustration. I wasn’t happy!

When I decided to stop suffering this is what I did. I bought a small shelf which I put IMG_0441in my bathroom. I tri-fold the towels and keep them color coordinated and it looks terrific. When I am in the bathroom doing whatever, I look at the towel rack and it feels so nice. It is perfect. I don’t mind Don’s unfolded towel or the fact that my color coordinated towels aren’t hanging up. What I see when I go into the bathroom is that I have this orderly, beautiful rack of towels. It feels satisfying to me.

Will You Let The Thieves of Joy Into Your Home?

Bed pillows and bath towels are not very important. But this principle of choosing happiness, of choosing to let go of suffering, of changing what you can and accepting with grace what you can’t, works in things that do matter. It comes up over and over in my mentoring. Disappointment, resentment, dissatisfaction, and frustration are the thieves of joy! You can let these thieves into your home or not. It is your choice.

816dOlxU5qL._SL1500_I have given you some examples of the mundane. But I have used this knowledge in the vitally important. I have healed my feelings about old wrongs, embarrassing moments, out and out rudeness and unkindness, out of sorts relationships, and even abuse. One of my favorite books, as a 16 year old, was by Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning. It has multiple lessons in its pages but one of the biggest is that you have a choice in every circumstance. It all comes down to your response. There are two quotes that I can still remember now, almost 50 years later -

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” and “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Taking responsibility for our own happiness is wonderfully empowering. When we know that we are in control of our own happiness then we are able to choose our response. We can act and not be acted upon! I can fight with my husband over bed pillows and towels or not. I can feel resentment and disappointment every time I go into the bedroom/bathroom or not. It is up to me. And frankly, I choose to take responsibility for my response, I choose to let go of suffering!

What is your experience with this principle? I’d really like to know.


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mom-teenHave you ever noticed that when we are having trouble with our spouse, neighbor or our children we begin to wonder what we can “do” to make the situation better? Can we devise a new system, have a good old fashioned “talk it out” session or come up with a consequence/reward and so forth.

Recently I was mentoring with a mom who found herself in that sticky place. She wanted to know if I had any counsel that might help. I want to share with you what I shared with her.

Blame is an indicator

The Truth Behind WhiningRelationship is everything and ultimately it depends on you! You can’t “do” yourself into a good relationship. You have to “be” yourself into one. Our way of being is far more important in our relationships, especially with our children, than anything we can do. It comes down to how we are with them. How do we treat them? How good are our own boundaries. How consistent are we? Do we have control of ourselves? Do we keep the promises we make to ourselves? When “how” we are changes, when our way of being is right, everything begins to change and the relationship grows.

I always know when my “way of being’ is at the heart of an issue. I can tell because that is the moment I point my finger at someone or something and blame them for how I am feeling. Blame is an indicator that we need to look at our own behaviors, our own stories.

This mother shared with me that her son is needy, sometimes whinny, doesn’t respond when asked to do something. He doesn’t like being directed. It is frankly annoying. The energy between them is not positive and she is short with him.

See that blame finger pointing. Because of how he is, she has to put up with feeling irritated and annoyed.

You Can Re-write the Story

As we talked further here is what came out:Mom_hugging_boy_outside_BRAND_PHO_EN
• He loves to snuggle
• He likes having a choice
• He needs details to move forward in a job or activity with confidence or to make a smooth change in plans
• He is interested in learning

So she designed an experiment to change her “way of being” with her seven year old son.

She rewrote her story. He isn’t needy. He is bright and needs detail and information to move forward and when given a choice is responsible in doing a good job. He likes her company because he loves her and he loves connecting with her.

She has coupled this new story with a new way of being when she deals with her son. She gives him a choice when asking him to do something. For example: “You need to clean your room. Which would work for you, to clean your room now and then go play or to have 30 minutes to get stuff done you want to do and then clean your room?

When major plans change she takes him aside and lets him know, before they tell the whole family. For example: They had a family activity planned. As she and her husband looked over the calendar for the week they realized that that one extra activity would mean they were gone from home every evening of the week. They decided to do the activity the next week. She let her seven year old know why the change needed to be made and when they would do the activity. When they told the family he didn’t make a scene.

Group of children smilingShe has also begun using “random touches” with him as often as she can remember to do it. A random touch takes 3 seconds and is accompanied by silence. It is just a pat on the back as you walk past them, a squeeze of the knee when sitting by them, etc.

I asked her today how her experiment was going. She said that when she remembers to give him details it works PERFECTLY. When she gives him a heads up about a change in the schedule it works PERFECTLY. And as for random touches….well that is making ALL the difference. Not just for her seven year old, but for all of her children.

She said that using random touches has changed how she is with her children. For example: When she is working and a child asks her for help in some way , if she turns so she can touch a shoulder or arm she is able to disengage for a few second and focus on them. She is learning to be PRESENT.

Check Out Your Way of “Being”

When you find yourself angry, frustrated or bewildered in any relationship, when you feel that someone or something outside of yourself is causing your discomfort or pain, that is a time to check your “way of being”.

This mother’s efforts to change her “way of being” in this relationship is paying HUGE dividends in her family.

Remember that relationship is everything and that you can’t “do” yourself into a good relationship. You “be” yourself into one.

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What Do You Do With 100 Pounds of Yarn!!

I recently inherited about 100 lbs of yarn—eleven black garbage bags and seven boxes. I adore yarn, but this was simply an absurd amount of yarn for this novice crocheter.

As the yarn was being packed into every available space of my minivan I envisioned the many beautiful scarves, hats, blankets, and booties that would warm the hearts and souls of so many—100 pounds of love!

However, as I began to actually survey the contents of the bags and boxes I could see that this would be a complicated undertaking, as some of the yarn was in a complex mess of tangles and knots.

Thus came the challenge—the yarn held such beautiful potential in joy, blessings, and pleasure, but that wonderfulness was hidden in the complication of getting through the knots and tangles.

Right at the beginning I had to answer this question – Was it worth doing the obvious work required to reach the wonderfulness? I decided yes. As I sat unwinding, untangling, and un-knotting I was reminded that this yarn mess wasn’t very different than my own 44 year old marriage. It isn’t that much different than any significantly worthy relationship.

IMG_0353Recently, on one of my Facebook groups, a discussion ensued about how a wife should handle a husband who she considered unreasonable in a situation with their child. As you can imagine there were a lot of comments. Many of them had to do with just taking the bull by the horns and forging ahead, doing what was “right” for the child, no matter what the husband’s position.

It brought to mind my whole tangled yarn experience. This couple has a tangled mess. They are trying to sort it out. Each one thinks that their position is “correct” and “reasonable”. They are emotionally pulling, tugging and yanking on their individual “threads” of belief. It is causing a big mess for them.

If we want to untangle messy issues with our spouse it is good to remember that it all begins with relationship, not the current question at hand. The problem for this couple isn’t whether they should do this or that for their child. It ultimately comes down to the health of their relationship.

They are in a place of intractability. It’s me against you. They are at war, so to speak.

Four Ways To Untangle Your Differences

So what can be done when we find ourselves in this intractable place, when we are stuck in a 100 pound tangled mess? Here is what was really obvious as I worked through the yarn tangles:

1. Know in advance of beginning that it is worth the effort to untangle. This was true with my 100 pounds of yarn and it is true of most marital relationships. It took me a lot of hours, over a few days, to get the job done. There were moments of extreme frustration when I wished I hadn’t begun the project, when I wanted to quit. However, I just kept visualizing the reward of hanging in – the many beautiful scarves, hats, blankets, and booties that would warm the hearts and souls of so many.

2. You have to use a gentle touch. No jerking, pulling, grasping, or tugging on the threads. That just tightens the knots! The softer the touch, the more easily it comes untangled. We can translate this into the difficulty of untangling human issues by realizing that you have to have a genuine interest in the other person’s position. You don’t have to agree, but you do need to want to hear and understand. There is a gentleness of heart involved in being able to listen for understanding when you disagree with another person. Sometimes we call it charity.

3. If you can find the beginning of the thread you have a far better chance of getting the knots out. There are two IMG_0362 (1)ends in every skein of yarn. One pulls out from the inside of the skein. The other wraps around from the outside. Sometimes they just get tangled up with each other. You can pull and tug and battle all you want but until you find the ends you will struggle. Finding two ends allows you to unravel the mess eventually. It is akin to having a belief that the other persons position is as valid as yours. From that position of mutual respect you can begin to untangle the mess. You can look at each end, so to speak, and begin the work of bringing order out of chaos. Again, you don’t have to agree but you have to know that despite your different positions, their position is valid.

One of the reasons we have a difficult time taking a genuine interest and in believing that the other person’s position is valid is because we really aren’t willing to see differently. We want our current view.

However, when you are willing to hear and understand another’s position, then you are able to come to a new view. You may still not agree, but you will see their position differently.

4. Allow time. It took many hours, over a number of days, to bring order to that yarn mess. If I had expected to get it done in a few hours I would have experienced a lot more stress and faced the idea of quitting more often. Relationships take time. Each bit of tangled emotion or difference in opinion takes time to unravel. There are not may things that must have a decision right now, in this hour or this day and often even in this week or month. Take the time to let each other think, pray, ponder and talk.

IMG_0361Knowing the relationship is worth the work, having a genuine interest in the other persons position, believing in the validity of the other persons opinion, and by allowing time, you can untangle almost any mess, just as I was able to do with the yarn.

When the work of untangling the yarn was finished, I knew from experience, that the work of creating beautiful scarves, hats, blankets, and booties would be much easier and frankly, a joy. As we untangle each misunderstanding or difference of opinion in our marriage then it will be easier to create a family built on trust, respect, hard work and love. We will have more joy in our families.

Like the yarn, wrapped in neat balls ready to use, our families will look better, feel better and be easier to live and work with. We can create something beautiful and lasting.

What have you experienced in your life that is akin to untangling 100 pounds of yarn?

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Recently on a mature dating site commercial, a giddy woman said, “It’s just like being back in high school.” YIKES!

You know what, I liked high school.  It turned out okay. I went to prom, dated some cute guys and had fun. In my year book I am listed as “The most typical girl”. But, I wouldn’t want to go back!

When I got married I was happy. Our children were born; we loved them and learned a lot of things. Some times were great and some were hard, but all in all, it evened out and we had fun. I was happy. But, I wouldn’t go back!

SAMSUNGThere isn’t a single point in my past life that I would willingly return to.You know why?

Because, today I am a better person. I know more. I have learned to value now what I couldn’t value when I was younger. This is just the natural course of life, with experience comes wisdom.

My relationships are valued more than just about anything else.

When I am making a big decision I ask myself, “How will this affect my ability to nurture my current relationships?” I recently asked that question as I considered some important life choices, and I ultimately made different decisions than I might otherwise have made.

I think one of the pivotal moments in my life was when I was sixteen. I was in the play OUR TOWN by Thorton Wilder. I played Emily Gibbs, a young woman on the threshold of a wonderful life. And then life was gone for her. We meet her in the spirit world and my how desperately she wants to go back. Those who are older and wiser advise her not to. But back she goes, to the happiest day of her life, her twelfth birthday.

It is painful because she realizes that those she loves best can’t “see” one another because they are so busy living life; IMAG1026doing all the things that they think matter so much…laundry, cooking, education, church duties, work, making money, changing the world.

That is the great perk of aging. I think we get some perspective on what really matters. That’s why grandparents can be so great. That’s why they have so much fun with grandchildren. It isn’t really because we don’t have to discipline or manage them, it’s because we truly want a relationship with them. We like them. We “see” them.

Make Room For Relationships

Maybe it’s because the sand is running out of our hour glass faster and faster. We become aware that we don’t have all the time in the world. We just have now, today. That is all. That is all we have ever had, just today. We can fill it with “busy” or we can simplify and make room for relationship. It’s a choice and you can make that choice.

SAMSUNGSimplify your calendar. Simplify your activities. Stay home more. Read as a family more. Turn off all the electronics and play a game. Fold laundry together. Eat together. Talk and listen. Laugh more. Let stress go.

What could you let go of a little more today in order to give more room to the things that matter most?

One day you will be older. You kids will be older. You won’t care how clean your house was, how spectacular the yard, if you home schooled or public schooled. You won’t value the amount of money you made, how often you went to Disneyland, if your kids got a new bike every year or what college they got in to. You won’t care if they were carpenters or lawyers. You won’t care if you impacted thousands of people. What you will think about more than anything else is the condition of your relationships. That, my friends, is what you are going to treasure most. Take time now to make them sweet.

Really, I would like to hear your answer to the question posed above: What could you let go of a little more today in order to give more room to the things that matter most? You can use the comment box. : )

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