In the epic Batman comic strip, Bruce Wayne witnesses his parents’ death at the hands of a thief. Wayne pledges he’ll avenge their deaths by spending his life combating criminals. He later visits a pawn shop to purchase the gun used to kill his parents.
Returning to the bat cave, Batman melts the gun into a shield he embeds into his bat suit. He vows the metal that broke his heart as a child will protect his heart as a man.
Batman’s story depicts the universal truth about the art of transforming suffering. Rather than closing his heart because of his loss, Batman uses his suffering as a springboard to dig deep into his truest self and find his purpose in life.
The Wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh
Like Batman, Zen Master and spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh (1926-2022) teaches us the secret to happiness is not to run away from pain and suffering, but to acknowledge it and embrace its transforming power.
In his book, No Mud, No Lotus, The Art of Transforming Suffering, Thich explains that with meditation, mindful breathing, and other spiritual practices, we calm our pain and clear our minds so we can gain clarity about how life is inviting us to grow. “When we know how to suffer,” Thich says, “we suffer much, much less.”
A Stroke of Luck
At age 57, my life hurled into chaos when I suffered a stroke. I wasn’t sure if I’d die or, worse yet, live the rest of my days strapped in a wheelchair.
Alone in a sterile hospital bed at midnight, the Almighty and I had a talk. It was a let’s-get-real, show-me-your poker-hand conversation with the Creator. I shook my fist. Demanded answers.
“Am I going to die or get another chance?”
“What would you like?” I heard God whisper in the dark.
“I’m not sure,” I debated. “It’d be nice to leave life’s troubles behind—get a one-way ticket to heaven. Yet, I’d miss my wife, children, and grandchildren. I’m going to need your courage if you want me to get out of this bed and try again.”
The next morning when the doctor brought in the MRI results, I discovered something had happened that didn’t make medical sense.
“I’ve not seen this before,” he said with a puzzled look on his face. “The front left artery in your neck is completely blocked. Usually, that triggers total paralysis or death. In your case, the right artery pumped hard enough to create new blood streams that crossed over your skull into the left side of your brain.”
I released the breath I’d been holding. Thank you, God.
“The only part that’s damaged is the area that controls your speech,” the doctor continued.
“Everything else checks out fine.”
I raised an eyebrow.
The doctor smiled. “With time and lots of therapy, you should be back up and running. You’re a lucky man.”
But I didn’t feel lucky. I was looking at months of therapy. Months of struggling to get back what had been taken from me in just seconds. The sense of dread that had gripped me before the doctor’s visit returned.
“Why me?” was my knee-jerk reaction. “Why, in the prime of life, did I get hit with this sucker punch?” I was tempted to look at my suffering and the months of exhausting speech therapy ahead of me as a curse and crawl into a pit of depression.
But over the next few months, helped by my spiritual director, lots of prayer, and quiet meditation, I not only recovered my speech, but I also realized my stroke had a purpose. God was telling me it was time to take off my lawyer’s suit and tie and pull on my writer’s jeans and T-shirt. Full-time.
The stroke transformed into a stroke of luck.
By Our Wounds We Are Healed
Scripture says, “By his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5-6. While the words are typically used to point to Jesus’ death and resurrection as the key that opened the door to eternal life, they may also contain another truth: “By our wounds we are healed.”
If we can recognize that suffering has a purpose and take the time to listen and gain clarity about how we’re being invited to grow, the suffering won’t overwhelm us. Instead, it becomes a pathway to a new and deeper inner freedom—the kind that leads to joy; the kind that comes from great suffering transformed by Divine Love.
—brian j plachta
Identify a time when you experienced suffering.
Looking back, what wisdom did you learn?
How did the suffering transform you?
How did Divine love embrace and guide you?
Upcoming Finding Flow Event
Look for the Finding Flow Summit that will be presented on-line March 6-11, 2022. I’ve interviewed 20 outstanding spiritual leaders about how they grow deeper in their relationship with God and will host this Free Event as these wise teachers share their stories and insights. Registration will be out next month!