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Suffering Can Wait

By: Michael Blankenship |

“Even bad fortune is fickle. Perhaps it will come, perhaps not; in the meantime it is not.”

– Seneca

This quote from Mark Twain has always struck a chord with me: “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

The vast majority of things we worry about… never come to pass. And even if they do come to pass, it does us no good to worry about things which we will suffer later that we have no control over. 

Seneca, the stoic philosopher from ancient Rome, wrote about this… 

“It is likely that some troubles will befall us; but it is not a present fact. How often has the unexpected happened! How often has the expected never come to pass! And even though it is ordained to be, what does it avail to run out to meet your suffering? You will suffer soon enough, when it arrives; so look forward meanwhile to better things. What shall you gain by doing this? Time. There will be many happenings meanwhile which will serve to postpone, or end, or pass on to another person, the trials which are near or even in your very presence. A fire has opened the way to flight. Men have been let down softly by a catastrophe. Sometimes the sword has been checked even at the victim’s throat. Men have survived their own executioners. Even bad fortune is fickle. Perhaps it will come, perhaps not; in the meantime it is not. So look forward to better things.”

I’ve personally found that adversity often occurs when you least expect it — even when you’ve spent a lot of time expecting it. It comes unbidden when you’re distracted or entertained; a midnight phone call from a family member during what was a good night’s sleep, an unexpected diagnosis from a routine check-up, a drunk driver at an intersection while a family laughs at a particularly funny joke.

Yet our monkey-brain errantly assumes that we can avoid future suffering by thinking about it. 

The bad news is that we can’t. 

The good news is that, since we can’t, there’s no reason to think about future suffering that we can’t control. What will be will be. And what is, is.

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