Over the past 18 months as I have gone through some of my own personal and professional trials, I have had a lot of people say a lot of things in an attempt to help me through my sufferings. Some of the advice and statements have been helpful, others, just inane. It was the latter that is behind the post What Not to Say When You Friends Are Hurting over at Relevant Magazine. It’s quite good and I’m fully on board with the author’s intent, especially when he points out that by being pithy with the truth, we are actually being profane:
Sacred Truths were never meant to cover up or hide the truths of what someone is experiencing in the here and now. It makes a person’s present experience feel pointless and meaningless, amplifying loneliness or frustration.
Irreverent to both the Truths we intend to share and the person we are commanded to love, it’s sacrilege. In that respect, more than lame platitudes, such statements become a new kind of profanity. “Profane” can be defined as “to treat something sacred with irreverence or disrespect.”
Vulnerable moments are sacred spaces to be treated with the utmost reverence and respect. We far too often desecrate it with christianese graffiti, recklessly applying theology we misunderstand and treating it like a method to be applied to a solvable situation.
However, just a few thoughts for those of us in the midst of suffering, on behalf of those who are trying to help. First, they are trying to help. When those of us are suffering show up in their lives, most people are not ready for it. It catches them off guard and they really don’t want to hear it. After all, we bring a stark reality to their lives. If they are happy, or trial free, the last thing that most people want to think about is the reality that suffering and trials are right around the corner, especially when they see a Christian or a pastor suffering. We must admit that most people are just not ready for the reality of suffering and don’t know how to respond to it when it arrives.
Secondly, while what they say isn’t very helpful, again, they are trying to be helpful. We need to realize that most people are not trained or gifted to help those who are suffering. They can become trained, gifted is another issue all together. Yet, the reality is that even in the church, there are not a lot of Sunday school classes on how to help those in suffering. It gets mentioned now and then from the pulpit, or in blogs like this one, but very few people spend time thinking about it. After all, they don’t want to think about people who are suffering because it reminds them of the reality that they may suffer at some point too, as I pointed out above.
Third, realize that when we are suffering, our suffering is for our benefit, not their benefit. God has placed that suffering on us for a particular reason. More than likely, so that we grow to be more like Christ. While I have been suffering for some time as I write this, please note that I don’t really feel more like Christ. But this is a spiritual reality we must trust the Father with as we suffer.
Another reason it is for our benefit is so that we can comfort those who suffer with as we have been comforted (2 Corinthians 1). Through the past 18 months, I have had two fellow ministers come to me who are suffering in the same way as my suffering. God has equipped me through suffering to help them. While I don’t like the suffering, and struggle to rejoice aka James 1:2, I do count it a privilege to join my brothers in their suffering. They know I know their pain. They know I know their struggles. They know that what they tell me is safe and I won’t belittle it with some pithy comment.
This is how the body of Christ operates. For every person that goes through suffering of one kind or another, there are others in the body there to walk along side you because they have been through the same thing. It is part of the comfort we have by being in Christ. We are not alone in what we face. The circumstances may vary, but the suffering of those circumstances does not vary. This doesn’t make it any easier. What is the line from A League of Their Own? If it were easy, everybody would do it. By “it” I mean being a Christian, knowing that we are called to suffer as Christ did, knowing that God is producing a richer faith in us, so that we can comfort others who are suffering as well.
One final note. While we are in suffering, remember that it is our cross to bear for a time. Not everyone really needs to know what we are struggling with. Sure, tell our friends, and our brothers and sisters in the LORD who pray for us, but people we come into contact with in a casual setting, they probably don’t need to know. Realize that whatever cross you are bearing, it was given to you by the Father of Lights, in whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. He isn’t doing so because He hates us, He is doing so because He loves us. Every true believer will have to experience this at one time or another. In the midst of it, while we may not understand, we should remember and remind others, that He is trustworthy.