Oct 222013 4 Responses

Always Suffer Together, Never Alone

Suffering is best endured in the care of community. For this to take place, we must believe two things:

1. It is always our job to support others through suffering NOT to add to their suffering.

2. We are never called to suffer alone.

The majority of the Book of Job covers the give and take conversations between Job and his three friends—Eliphaz, Zophar, and Bildad.

Job’s friends come to him with the hopes of bringing him comfort in the midst of his grieving, but instead, they heap sorrow upon his sorrow.

All three approach suffering from a you reap what you sow perspective. In their minds, every sorrow is deserved. They take the general principle of sowing and reaping and turn it into an unchanging law which defines every human experience. This heresy creates tremendous grief.

The Christian views suffering in a different way. We know suffering is a natural part of life which may or may not be caused by our decision-making. Whether it is our fault or not, we believe God has chosen to use suffering in order to make himself known to us.

A Biblical understanding of suffering not only changes how we individually respond to suffering, it also changes our understanding of suffering in the midst of community.

Humanity often handles suffering wrongly because we believe it is our job to cause others to suffer. Like Eliphaz, Zophar, and Bildad, we add to others’ suffering through our judgmental attitudes, blame, lack of compassion, or by isolating those who suffer.

Adding to someone’s suffering is never our task. Supporting others through suffering is always our responsibility.

Notice the tragic irony: we most often add to the suffering of the very people we are called to support through their suffering.

Interestingly, it often takes less work to support others than to hurt them. Assisting others through suffering often means:

Less words, not more. What can we truly say in the midst of others’ great sorrows? Not much. Saying less often means more. Simple words such as “I love you,” “I’m sorry,” or “I’m here for you” often mean more than anything else.

Less action, not more. Small acts like sending a card, making a short phone call, or dropping a meal off to someone can have tremendous impact with very little effort.

Less time, not more. Suffering is exhausting. People need plenty of time to rest. While suffering people might need us more, they need us more in shorter stints of time.

Anytime someone is suffering, the primary question we should ask ourselves is “How can I help them in the midst of what they are dealing with” rather than to ask “How can I get them to see this is their fault” or “How can I prevent this suffering from happening.”

Humanity often handles suffering wrongly because we believe we can endure life on our own. But we can’t. Notice how humanity gets this wrong: we think strong people can handle everything on their own and weak people need help. The Bible reveals that it is a sign of maturity when we realize we need help. Strong people get help while weak people foolishly think they don’t need it.

At the end of the hallway from my office is a counselor’s office. I often refer people to the counseling practice and on more than one occasion I’ve had people tell me they don’t want to walk the hallway of church staff people on their way to counseling because they are afraid they might be judged. People are surprised to know what church staff think when someone walks the long hallway into the counseling office. In those moments I always think, “Good for them.” It shows me they are smart enough to know they need help. It proves to me they have a chance for healing because they have the humility to admit their need.

The grace of God opens our eyes to our spiritual need and enables us to confess that need. God created us for community. We need the love and support of others and we need to give love and support to others. Trying to live life on our own is a guaranteed way to fail.

Never add to the suffering of others. Always assist those who suffer and seek assistance from others when you suffer.

Question: What is the most meaningful thing someone has done to assist you through suffering?

4 Responses to Always Suffer Together, Never Alone
  1. stevebrawner Reply

    All of my “suffering,” if you could call it that, has been self-inflicted.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Steve, that’s true for a lot of us. I think one mistake we make is to divide suffering into “my fault” and “not my fault.” We then feel empathy for those in the “not my fault” category and don’t feel it for those in the “my fault” category. This should not be. Even if suffering is my fault, it still hurts and I still need help.

  2. Becky Harris Reply

    I love your question. Personally, in the midst of grief, notes and cards from friends expressing love and concern are most meaningful. I’ll also say that the toughest to hear are things like, “it all happens for a reason,” “at least (fill in the blank),” and other words that are meant help, but do the opposite because they actually dismiss and minimize the grief.

  3. […] Sadly, in his family’s stubbornness, they missed some great conversations about life, death, a... kevinathompson.com/be-fine

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Please enter your name, email and a comment.