Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.
At first, unless we know what 'suffer' means in this verse, we can think this is rather sinister. But 'to suffer' means more than just experience pain. Suffering is allowing; it means to let and permit. It also means to tolerate, to bear, or to endure. When we take these definitions into consideration, then the verse translates as, “Allow the little children to come to me,” which makes much more sense to our modern ears.
The word suffer still causes us difficulties, even today. Many of us are stuck in the thinking that suffering is excruciating agony, despair, and ultimately leading to death. But in truth, suffering is experiencing challenges, a different word with a different perspective. For instance, I believe there is a misconception that to be a good Christian we need to suffer; in order to travel the ‘high path’ and be spiritual minded we must experience hardship, misfortune, and deprivation.
I believe this is wrong thinking. We are children of God, not of suffering. But we are children of learning, growing, transforming, and that is where the challenges arise. If our way seems hard, convoluted, and unhappy, perhaps we need to redirect our thinking. To suffer is not necessary to be in tune with God; it is not a requirement to be a Child of God.
If we think we must suffer, then we will attract difficulties that cause suffering. Wherever our attention goes, our energy flows. The pictures and thoughts we hold in our minds, even if they are of things we do not want in our lives, are drawn inexorably toward us.
Matthew 6:24 tells us that a man cannot serve two masters. We cannot embrace two conflicting thoughts or journey down two divergent paths. The path of Spirit is a way of light, life, joy, love, peace, and plenty. When we allow Spirit to lead us, we meet our good at all times and at every turn.
All the paths of the LORD are loving-kindness and truth to those who keep His covenant and His testimonies.
It is delusion that we must walk any other path. Christ illuminates the correct path for our minds and hearts, and by attuning our hearts to the indwelling Spirit we are delivered from false beliefs.
Still, we live temporarily in a physical universe within a physical body, and this is so hard to do at times. We all face challenges, and many people are suffering in the world. We suffer or allow external circumstances to steal our joy and light because we believe they can do so. And here is the crux to our issues: it is our belief that people, or situations, or things can affect us that causes our suffering; it is not the things themselves. And it certainly is not God. When we exchange our false beliefs for the consciousness of joy, peace, and love, our lives are filled with joy, peace, and love.
This is part of the meaning in “Be still and know that I am God.” Be still means not just to still our bodies, and thoughts, but also to still our false beliefs and misconceptions. Our suffering does not originate from ‘out there’; it comes from our attitudes and beliefs.
Yet, God will take our poor choices, and the consequential suffering or unproductive negative results, and use it for our benefit. As we learn in Romans 8:28 - We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. We experience opportunities, some may call them challenges, some may even call it suffering, to change our minds, hearts, focus, direction and develop strength, perseverance, and wisdom.
So suffering is not always a bad thing. Someone once asked a man whose father was confined to a mental institution, “Do many other family members suffer from insanity?” The man replied, “Suffer? O Heavens no. We enjoy it.”
Seriously now, Mother Theresa said: “I think it is very good when people suffer. To me that is like the kiss of Jesus.”
Alarming at first, but this is not insensitivity; this is great insight being shared. When we can free ourselves from the grip of our ego, we understand that suffering is an invitation from God. When we suffer, we allow the awareness of Christ to clarify our thinking; our distress indicates the error of our beliefs and actions, and where we are blocking the flow of God’s love. It is our expanding inner awareness that causes our suffering.
Rumi, the great mystic Muslim wrote this: “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” It is at the point of our greatest pain that God’s love heals us, at least as much as we allow it.
Mother Theresa said: There is a light in this world, a healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter. We sometimes lose sight of this force when there is suffering, too much pain. Then suddenly, the spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call and answer in extraordinary ways.
The Buddhists teach Four Noble Truths: suffering exists; it has a cause; it has an end; and there is a path to bring about its end. According to Buddhists, suffering is caused by desires and ignorance. Desires of the earthly nature cause suffering, as does our ignorance in believing that things of the earthly plane can affect who we truly are. We can overcome suffering by following the Noble Eightfold Path of: Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.
I believe the Christ-Mind is present in these teachings: love God, love ourselves, and love each other through how we treat others, through our thoughts, through the words and inflections we choose, through our attitudes and beliefs.
Aristotle taught: Suffering becomes beautiful when anyone bears great calamities with cheerfulness, not through insensibility but through greatness of mind.
When we expand our thoughts about suffering pain to the thought of permitting inner expansion and guidance, we change our attitudes toward everything; our wounds are cauterized by the Love and Light of God, and we are healed. When we allow God’s healings, we take steps toward being of supreme use to God.
Khalil Gibran wrote: “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” Said Helen Keller: “All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.”
There have been times in my life when I have avoided seeking God’s will; I was not convinced it was all that good for me. I thought it had to include suffering, misfortune, and disappointment of one sort or another. I was not living from faith in Jeremiah 29:11 -- “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Instead of living from faith in God’s good for me, I was living from fear. I believed that God had to shape me, mold me, prune me, and force me to do things I really did not want to do. That was just my untamed ego resisting and having a pity party, and I did not realize at the time that nothing was further from the truth. God’s will for us is good, perfect, prospering, beneficial, hope-filled with freedom from any limitation.
We are children of the One God; it is our divine birthright to be happy, healthy, peaceful, and abundantly supplied with all good things. We have but to simply open our hearts, minds, and arms to this good, and not forbid it or resist it by clinging to false beliefs and thoughts of unkindness, limitation, and all other darkness.
So, what can we do when we find ourselves in a negative state and are suffering? What can we do to have God’s love, peace, and joy rain down upon us? We can remember the acronym RAIN.
R= Recognize. Pause and recognize that we are experiencing suffering. Become aware of our emotional condition.
A = Allow. Accept and allow the suffering, the experience, without judgment. It is there for a purpose.
I = Investigate. Ask our self, “Why am I experiencing the suffering?” This can be done without judgment or resistance. It is simply becoming aware of what is.
N = Not me; not my identity. We acknowledge that what we are experiencing is not a reflection of who we are. It does not define us; it is not our persona.
Just taking a few quiet moments to look at ourselves objectively we can help alleviate the pain of suffering. When negative thoughts appear, it is important not to engage them mentally or emotionally. RAIN gives us a framework to look at ourselves and our thoughts from the third person, through the eyes of Christ, and this encourages answers and realizations to flow forth.
It’s like the guy who was getting all upset because his Sunday paper didn’t show up. He waited and waited, and the longer he waited the more he stewed in his anger. Finally, he calls the newspaper office and demands to know where his paper is. “Sir,” the clerk responds, “today is Saturday. The Sunday edition will be delivered tomorrow...on Sunday.” The man was quiet for a long moment, then said, “Well, that explains why there was no one at church either.”
We don’t always know what’s going on, so why not choose to be hopeful? With God, all things are possible. We can face suffering, trials, doubt, challenges, and appearances of lack with confidence, certainty, and hope. Why? - because God is present within all of Creation. As Christ tells us: The kingdom of heaven is within.
Our Christ-infused attitude allows for an increase in our ability to see beyond appearances to the never-changing reality of God in all situations. We don’t need to fix anybody or anything, and we don’t have to suffer. We can choose to look at God’s plans for us the same way Jesus looked at the children: let them come unto us and do not forbid them.
We can welcome God’s plans and let them play out, accepting whatever happens without judgment and emotional attachment. We understand that we cannot adjust the circumstances of our Divine Plan, but we can alter our attitudes to remain peaceful and without taking it as a personal attack. No, we do not need to suffer.
When our hearts and minds are attuned to Spirit, we realize that our difficult life encounters strengthen the compassion and kindness within us. Our challenges forge an unbreakable genuineness and desire to give back. When life offers hardship, Spirit can make us aware that one of our greatest gifts and valuable opportunities is the chance to make someone else’s time on this planet just a little bit better.
Some of you will notice that I often qualify all the good that God gives us with the qualifier ‘can’. When life is tough, Spirit ‘can’ make us aware. Our thoughts and actions ‘can make a difference. Can, can, can, but not for certain because we have a choice. It is our choice whether we accept God’s good or not. We can love our neighbor, or not. We can live confidently, hopefully in God’s Grace, or not.
To suffer God’s plans is to be optimistic and spiritually aware that in all our experiences God’s will is being expressed - God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will. It is my prayer that this knowledge and attitude of faithfulness and certainty in God’s goodness for each of us and for all of Creation will eliminate our suffering of pain, so that we will live by the expanded definition of the word: to endure, persevere, grant, and to allow the movement and guidance of Spirit openly and confidently through us.