Suffering. It's an ageless and perplexing subject because it’s personally so difficult to endure and also so hard when someone close to us is laboring under its heavy weight. We can (and should) empathize with our sufferers even as we feel helpless. We can’t fix it for them, but that’s not really our job.
Suffering is pain stretched out over time - “long-suffering” is a common biblical theme. No one wants to suffer, and few of us would want it for anyone else, even perhaps someone who's wronged us horrifically. Beyond suggesting a Suffering Survival Guide here, the question should be posed - is there any real value in suffering? I think there is.
All of this takes on larger meaning when we remember that Jesus paved the way in our suffering, both as an example of how to respond the right way (acknowledging the Father), but also as emotional support from someone who's been there. His suffering linked heaven to our humanity and if we really think about it, he had the most to lose. His earthly life, yes, but certainly his heavenly dignity. God-becomes-man-becomes-tortured - what a massive fall.
So there's value in Christ's example. But what about the more practical? One of the most common human traits of an immature soul is pride and shallowness of character. We think things are going well. We attribute it to our smarts, our hard work, or any other number of things tied to our great efforts. Then the wheels fall off. We experience pain and loss. Our brokenness crashes down with our poor choices, the words and actions of others around us, or perhaps we don't really know why.
When we respond correctly, suffering “keeps us honest”, as they say. It adds depth of character to our shallow soul. And an added bonus - it fosters true compassion for others. More depth of character as we remember to gaze outwards, even as it hurts so much. Because others are hurting too.
As I write this, I am in some personal turmoil. It’s common life-stuff but as suffering typically goes, it feels worse than it probably is. So this blog post is fresh and sincere. Here is what I am learning in real time (ME, are you listening?):
Don’t suffer alone, and on the other side, don’t ignore the sufferer! Yes, we all live “out west” but we’re not cowboys on some far lonely outpost. We NEED each other. We really do, as both a giver and receiver of compassion. Isolation is one of the enemy’s harshest and most powerful tools. It leads to wrong assumptions and beliefs, and wild exaggerations. And it’s horribly lonely. We need to reach out, and that includes professional or pastoral care.
Pain focuses us, and locks us in. Sometimes I feel God uses it to get our attention, and keep it for awhile while he speaks and we learn.
We can ask God why, but we shouldn't get stuck on the why. He wants to interact with us, and answers will be revealed as we walk with him, and keep walking. Don't stop and get stuck. If we fall, get back up.
Gain perspective and identify the gains. Perspective is one of suffering's great rewards.
We need to give the sufferer space but be sensitive and “nearby”, observing, praying, and ready to connect. Don’t worry about not having words. Smiles and hugs are essential too.
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
About the Author
Terry is a man in constant motion to explore new horizons. He has a thirst for new places and faces, and a deep love for the natural world - with a weakness for waterfalls and sunsets. All of this venturing out helps to both ground and inspire him, because it opens him up to people, with their vast, collective array of experiences, outlooks and responses.
He finds all of this fascinating and sees that it has encouraged the growth of something crucial in his Christian development: empathy and compassion toward his brothers and sisters on this planet.