Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Harnessing Suffering

Not to long ago, as my folks were cleaning out the dark recesses of a tumbledown building on their property, they came across what remained of an old, homemade harness.  This was not an ordinary harness, used for beasts of burden, rather it was a harness fashioned by my fathers hands, for the exclusive use of my mother.  Yes, you read that right.  My parents came across the remnants of a harness that my father had built to be worn by my mother.

Many moons ago, when I was a little girl, my parents moved from their comfortable life on an island outside of Seattle, to the outbacks of the American Redoubt.  They bought 25 acres of raw land that boasted two creeks an abundant spring and a quirky bridge.  Truth be told, they hadn't even seen the land itself - when they purchased their dream (on nothing more than a handshake), the property was under 3 feet of snow.

Hastily selling their island home, they loaded all of their earthly possessions into a 4 horse trailer (built by my fathers shop class) and bravely forged a new life.  Although they bought their land outright, there was no infrastructure in place.  Power lines, septic systems and water lines had to be installed.  The well had to be developed, the property needed to be fenced and housing had to be secured.  All of this was to be accomplish before the winter snow flew, roughly 3 months.

The first few weeks living our outback adventure found us sleeping in a borrowed tent and taking baths in the creek.  We woke early (often to frozen ground, even in the middle of July) and filled our days with domesticating our new environment.  My brother and I piled branches and other debris on towering burn piles, pulled obnoxious, persistent thistles and caught crawdads in the creeks.  As we were playing/working, my parents were about the business of preparing a home for their family.  My dad hand-dug our well, lined it with cedar boards and filled it with drain rock.  They used shovels to trench a line from the spring to the location of our "someday" house.  Dad "borrowed" a trackhoe and dug a hole for the septic tank, along with trenches for a drain field.  They laid pipe and spread drain rock - and that is where the harness came in.

My parents couldn't afford to hire someone to come in and install a septic system.  My dad had enough knowledge to put one in, so they opted for that course of action.  They dug the holes, had a septic tank placed, but still needed to move a HUGE amount of drain rock for the drain field.  At first, they tried just using the wheelbarrow.  What they found was, that once loaded with rock, it was too heavy for one person to move.  And so, Dad gathered together some rope and fashioned a harness that could be hooked to the front of the wheelbarrow.  With mom pulling and dad pushing they could move load after load of rock from the pile to the drain field.  After blisters, sores and exhaustion, the job was done.  At a great cost to themselves, they had accomplished the extraordinary - building their dream, wheelbarrow load by wheelbarrow load.

I find it interesting that modern people tend to believe that suffering is something to be avoided at all costs.  Our entire political system revolves around the concept that no one should have to suffer.  We seem to believe that suffering produces bad fruit.  If children are allowed to suffer, they will become criminals or psychopaths.  If adult have to suffer, they will become abusers - of drugs, alcohol or children.  Our entire society is entrenched in the belief that suffering is bad, therefore we have to do everything within our power to eradicate it.

However, that is a lie.  Suffering can be a gift from God.  It can produce character in our lives that nothing else has the capacity to.  Suffering can bind us to the people that we love, it can serve as an investment in our future.  In suffering to provide for their family, my parents gave a part of themselves, and in doing so, they invested in our family and in our land.  Their blood, sweat and toil sustained us - their suffering became the glue that held our family together.   They went without so they could provide for us.  Through their actions, we learned that, although unpleasant, suffering wrought the fruit of gratefulness, humility and patience.

My parents helped shape the way that I view the world.  I don't like to suffer.  I don't like to see other people suffer.  But I do see the value of suffering.  I realize that only through suffering can God mold us into the image of His son.  Only through suffering can we become truly grateful.  Only through suffering can we truly empathize with others.  Only through suffering can we build something lasting, something great.

My mothers harness now hangs in a place of honor.  It is a reminder of what it is like to suffer.  But much more than that, it is a reminder of the blessings that come from suffering.

Don't be afraid to suffer.  Get your hands dirty.  Go without.  Tell your children no.  Prepare them to step, undaunted into the future.  Teach your children that it is O.K. to suffer - they and you - will be better for it.


  1. I too wore a 'harness' used to drag a heavy timber to help level our land. As my husband hand dug the high spots and then I would drag over them to level. My children watched as we labored early to late to build our home for them and pitched in where they could. They now are hard working adults that are not on the dole but working their way through life. I praise God that He gave us this opportunity that my children could learn through. It may have been hard work, but it produced beyond our natural abilities to the depths of my children's souls.

  2. Enola,


    This latest posting is ironic, because last night I was watching video's of the new Navy bootcamp at Great Lakes, Michigan.

    Its a far cry from what I had to endure back in the late 1980's. The video documentary I had to watch showed a nice new barracks that was well heated with new racks (beds) like those onboard modern ships.

    The bootcamp I remembered had 1960's barracks with little heat and other 'rough" conditions in January. We had "snow watches" shoveling snow and it was so icy many times we could not march in formation.

    If anyone watches the first part of the movie "Full Metal Jacket" on youtube. Look at the hall and the racks etc. Except for being in Marine colors, it was almost a clone to what we had back in 1988. The Company Commanders used every four letter word in the book and a few I never heard before, just like in Full Metal Jacket. Only difference was they did not strike us. I did get spit in my face from my Company Commander yelling at me at the top of his lungs.

    If you can survive bootcamp, you can survive anything.

  3. Everything worth having is worth working hard to achieve. Your lesson is timely, but will probably not be read by those who need it the most. I loved it, though.

    Thank you for sharing.


  4. It's funny that you chose to choose Suffering as part of your blog tonight.
    Today was payday and as I sat here paying bills my two teenage children seeing I had the checkbook out decided now was the time to come to me to make the monthly requests. So I weeded out needs vs wants and then my daughter (age 14) advised that she needed new shoes. Come to find out not just shoes she NEEDED a $50 pair of shoes for which although I have the money, she just got a paid of shoes that were actually NEEDED two weeks ago, she wants the NAME brand shoes. So I advised. If she cleared the rock away from under where the old trampoline was so that we could install her 3 year old sister's new to us swing set, a total of about 6 hours worth of hard work, I would purchase those shoes for her. So she said I'm not fair because I was going to make her SUFFER by not purchasing her those shoes and making her actually work for them. Those shoes will not be purchased by myself or my husband. And if I have my way, they will only be purchased by her once she puts herself through the suffering of some darn good hard work to achieve what she really really wants. Let's see if she does it or not.

  5. My late wife and I did much the same thing - transformed overgrown forest land with no infrastructure into a place of beauty using mostly muscle power and ingenuity and very little cash. We considered it to be a struggle. We never thought of it as suffering.

    Semper Fi

    Hangtown Frank

    1. I agree wholeheartedly with this. A struggle may be dangerous, difficult, and unpleasant in many ways, yet is different from suffering. A struggle means going through a lot for a purpose-suffering, to me, is misery with no purpose.

  6. Great perspective, that I would add to - our world makes no distinction between the suffering/struggle that comes from hard work or sacrifice, vs. the suffering that comes from cruelty or injustice. God can redeem it all, but obviously child abuse (for example) is evil and will bring evil into that child's life for God to overcome. Hard work and sacrifice are not inherently evil and the "suffering" that accompanies them is healthy, even in a purely human or natural life.
    Our culture, having lost a solid foundation to discern good and evil, is hedonistic and judges only on the experience "pain=bad".

  7. Completely off topic, but I love your "mantel" above your stove. It is so pretty and reminds me of my mom's house. My parents also live in a "shouse" that was the home of my dad's heavy equipment even after they moved in. In fact, our first Thanksgiving there, mom used the forklift to hang a divider curtain on to separate the living area from the equipment area. They have lived there 14 years and thanks to my husband and my mom, it looks nothing like a shop anymore. Dad is a retired construction contractor but mom is the one who gets the renovations started!

  8. Incredible story. I really need to make more time to delve further into your excellent blog. As I'm only a quarter of a dozen articles behind that I need to write instead of a half dozen, maybe I'll get there before the weekend is out.

    Anyway, great article, and I very much look forward to reading more from ye! :D

  9. Great article. Can we see pictures of these harnesses mentioned in the comments and the one from the article, please?