Links to Think: 09.04.12

September 4, 2012

Minimizing Suffering Minimizes the Cross – Sometimes the easiest thing to do when encountering suffering is to offer trite answers and hollow platitudes. Others want to force fellow believers to have only “positive expressions of suffering.” But neither of these responses see the depth of suffering and the power of the cross. This has been on my mind often, and it was helpful to read this recent article by Tullian Tchividjian (the entirety of the article is excellent.)

“It is ironic that one of the most beautiful and encouraging verses in the Bible is also one of the most dangerous. You probably know which one I’m talking about. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

I’ve witnessed that verse misused more than any other. And I know I have been guilty of misusing it myself. Maybe you’ve heard it thrown out in a small-group setting, maybe in a casual discussion. Inevitably someone has just shared a painful story about what she’s going through or has gone through. We don’t know what to say—the predicament is a sad one. It goes beyond the normal categories and struggles. It’s awkward. We want to help, perhaps, but we also want the moment to end. Or maybe we are just focused on saying the “right” thing, the faithful thing.

Make no mistake, in this context, Romans 8:28 can be a bona fide conversation stopper. A spiritual “shut up,” if you will. And lest we think only Christians are prone to such insensitivity, the secular translation, “Don’t worry; it’ll all work out,” is no less ubiquitous. This is classic minimization of suffering.

Minimization involves any attempt to downplay or reduce the extent and nature of pain. Any rhetorical or spiritual device that underestimates the seriousness of suffering essentially minimizes it. Quick fixes are inevitably minimizing tactics. Platitudes are minimizing tactics. If moralization reduces suffering to a moral or spiritual issue, minimization makes similar reductions. For example, when doctors reduce suffering to a matter of medication or chemistry, or psychologists to one’s dysfunctional upbringing (which is not to say those things can’t be factors). In fact, naturalistic or materialistic outlooks are especially susceptible to minimization.”

“All of our attempts (well intentioned as they may be) to minimize suffering reveal our universal, fatal love affair with control and law. If I can just recast suffering in a diminished role, then I will hurt less. Or conversely, if I just do the right thing or just obey enough, God will be pleased, and I will hurt less. Neither approach takes God into much consideration. He is a passive bystander at best in either scenario. And both approaches stand on the premise of you and me possessing power that we simply do not have. Yet the knowledge of our limitations does not stop us from exhausting ourselves—indeed, from destroying ourselves—in our tireless attempts to grab the reins.”

The Myth of the Eight-Hour Sleep – If you lay awake at night worried about lying awake for chunks at a time, this article might be helpful, if for nothing else than to serve as a mental placebo to help you feel more rested. This fascinating BBC article takes a look at segmented sleep, and attempts to both demonstrate how this was historically the norm during various periods of history and possibly actually stress-preventing.

“In 2001, historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech published a seminal paper, drawn from 16 years of research, revealing a wealth of historical evidence that humans used to sleep in two distinct chunks.”

“Even the wealthy, who could afford candlelight, had better things to spend their money on. There was no prestige or social value associated with staying up all night.”

That changed in the wake of the Reformation and the counter-Reformation. Protestants and Catholics became accustomed to holding secret services at night, during periods of persecution. If earlier the night had belonged to reprobates, now respectable people became accustomed to exploiting the hours of darkness.

This trend migrated to the social sphere too, but only for those who could afford to live by candlelight. With the advent of street lighting, however, socialising at night began to filter down through the classes.

In 1667, Paris became the first city in the world to light its streets, using wax candles in glass lamps. It was followed by Lille in the same year and Amsterdam two years later, where a much more efficient oil-powered lamp was developed.

London didn’t join their ranks until 1684 but by the end of the century, more than 50 of Europe’s major towns and cities were lit at night.

Night became fashionable and spending hours lying in bed was considered a waste of time.

“People were becoming increasingly time-conscious and sensitive to efficiency, certainly before the 19th Century,” says Roger Ekirch. “But the industrial revolution intensified that attitude by leaps and bounds.”

Strong evidence of this shifting attitude is contained in a medical journal from 1829 which urged parents to force their children out of a pattern of first and second sleep.”

“The idea that we must sleep in a consolidated block could be damaging, he says, if it makes people who wake up at night anxious, as this anxiety can itself prohibit sleeps and is likely to seep into waking life too.

“Many people wake up at night and panic,” he says. “I tell them that what they are experiencing is a throwback to the bi-modal sleep pattern.”


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  • saphirecrackerjacksunnydelightsoutsideways September 7, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    I have, and have had, my own distresses. But, my ability to enjoy sleep and rest has only very, very rarely been blocked. Two nights in a row during grade school, for about three hours each night, was the worst I’ve ever had it: anxious over not getting to sleep. But, my mental state in regard to sleep and pre-sleep has always been one of merely a sense of coziness and inspired imagination. Those two nights had been during the height of my internalization of duty to the rigid-and-arbitrary ‘school’ structure (which wasn’t much of an internalization, but it sure killed my natural resting-and-sleep ability). The evil Pharaoh would have been appalled had he known of all the holidays that God commanded to His own nation. I suppose that that Pharaoh believed in ‘productivity’ above life itself, especially when it came to people whom he was hasty to think of as anti-productivity.

    • Keren September 12, 2012 at 11:16 pm

      It’s amazing how our anxiety over not getting enough sleep can actually prevent us from getting enough! Glad you have mostly had good sleep.