There is Joy in Suffering

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”    -Rumi 

I don’t like pain.  For most of my life I’ve either denied or avoided suffering.  Pain and suffering are things I have to consciously invite into my life or I find myself running away from them as fast as I can.

You might be asking, “Why would you want to invite pain and suffering into your life?”  I know, it seems counter-intuitive or, in the worst case, masochistic, doesn’t it?  Actually, no.  Through a lot of self-discovery, people speaking truth into my life, and good old counseling, I have come to understand the beauty that pain and suffering actually bring.

As the above quote from Rumi hints at, only through pain can you fully realize joy.

As I’ve grown older this becomes more real and truthful to me.  I can look back at my life and know that I’ve grown as a person when I have experienced great suffering, held it,  and then let it go.

This is the cycle from which I’ve tried to learn.   Many times I’ve failed, but by continuing to practice, I have been moved forward.  Each time I have allowed pain and suffering  into my life, tried to understand it, felt it and then moved on, I have learned something about myself, others and the world around me.

And I have experienced moments of great joy.

Richard and I see a lot of pain and suffering in the non-profit world.  There are many people we know who, ironically, are working to relieve pain and suffering in the world through the mission of the organizations they work for, yet are experiencing personal suffering through the awful leadership and management of those organizations.

I’m not sure why.  Perhaps non-profits are a haven for people who are messed up.  I do know one thing – when you are not in touch with your own pain and suffering, you can cause others a lot of pain and suffering.

I know.  I’ve caused quite a bit of it myself over the years.

In almost every situation in which Richard and I see dysfunction in the way a non-profit works, especially in the area of fundraising, we can pinpoint it to a leader and/or manager who is not in touch with his or her own pain and suffering.  And often, sadly,  this person is absolutely clueless about it.

What happens is that elaborate systems form around the individual or individuals to try and work around this cluelessness.  These systems then become an actual ecosystem of dysfunction, which creates a toxic environment.

This toxic environment creates pain and suffering for the good people who are working to relieve the pain and suffering.

Does any of this resonate with your workplace?

To be honest, there will always be some form of pain and suffering in any organization.  This is a reality.  But when that pain and suffering has created a toxic ecosystem that actually hurts you and prevents you from fully carrying out your mission, then something needs to be done.

Richard and I believe there are only two routes you can go down to change this situation.  The first one is probably the hardest thing you can possibly do.  Speak truth into the life of the person or persons who are causing the pain and suffering.

I cannot promise this will work.  However, I will tell you that when someone has boldly spoken truth to me, and I was able to hear it, it changed me, but only  when I was able to hear it.  There are no guarantees that it will be heard.  Also, to take this first position puts you in a very vulnerable place.  That is why speaking truth into anyone’s life is nothing short of heroic…and why MOST people don’t do it.  It takes an extraordinary amount of courage.

But, speaking truth into someone’s life has the power to move mountains.

The second route is to leave.  In many respects, this, too, takes courage. I ask you, why continue to stay in a toxic work environment that leaves you angry, bitter and depressed?  Is this how you want to live your life?  I don’t think you do.  So, if confronting leadership and management will not work, muster up the courage to let go.

Richard and I have much compassion for folks who feel they have to hang on.  We understand how hard it is to let go.  But at some point, you have to (as Richard has so poignantly pointed out to me) preserve self.

One thing I know to be true:  experiencing and working through pain and suffering will allow you to know great joy.  Don’t live your life in denial or run away from pain.  Until you embrace it, work with it and move through it, you will not grow.  You will remain stagnant…stuck.  There are so many people out there who are stuck. Remember what Rumi said, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”  Open yourself to pain and you open yourself up to the light.



About Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry

Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry have over 55 years of experience fundraising for non-profits. Richard Perry was co-owner of Domain Group until 2005. Jeff Schreifels was a Senior Strategist for Domain Group for 12 years. They came together a few years ago to start Veritus Group, a full-service major gift fundraising agency. Veritus Group has a unique, data-driven approach unlike any agency focused on major gifts. Jeff and Richard are passionate about their work, passionate about life and hopes this blog will provide you with insights and tangible benefits for you and your work. Thank you for reading!
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5 Responses to There is Joy in Suffering

  1. Chip Eagle says:

    This article (as with most of your articles) contains very good advice. Unfortunately, the situation described below usually requires a person to simply leave. A toxic person is rarely open to hearing the truth about themselves. The safest option is for the employee to secure new employment… work out the appropriate notice… and in his/her resignation letter state the reasons for leaving in an unemotional and non-threatening manner. I’ve been in this situation before and am most grateful for my current employment situation which is wonderful.

    Jason W. “Chip” Eagle
    Manager, Department of Gift Planning
    Sacred Heart Southern Missions
    P.O. Box 300
    Walls, MS 38680

  2. Thank you, Jeff, for bringing to the forefront a truth that is sadly neglected in many organizations -especially in a growth phase of development. I would like to offer a word of hope for selecting the first option – speaking truth into the life of the manager. Despite the risk of loosing my position as Executive Director, I took a stand with our Board of Directors regarding a long-term program director’s toxic impact (despite her stellar client care) on the staff who report to her. It has been a long, painful few months but I’m pleased to report that this manager actually listened to the hard truth. She has sought counseling and is genuinely open to mentoring and guidance to combat the pain underlying her destructive behavior. Our organization is not only healing but breaking into new strides of faith and trust.

    • Kristine, thanks for sharing your story. You did a heroic thing, confronting this person. I’m sure that was very difficult, but it sounds like it was definitely the right path for you. So good to hear how your organization is moving forward. Thanks for reading and thanks for joining in the dialogue.


  3. Jeff,
    Thanks for the enlightened piece on suffering. I celebrate taking your life into your own hands and making the decision to step up or step out. Spending your life blaming others for making you miserable (even though they might be the manager from, what my mother used to say, H.E. double toothpicks) remaining stuck is a waste of energy and precious life. Good work Jeff! Karen

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