How to persevere and honor God in the midst of suffering: Part 2

The reality of suffering

Part one of this blog focused on persevering through our own suffering. Part two will focus on how to love others well when they are suffering. This topic is important because part of our discipleship involves persevering and helping others to do the same. 

Suffering is an unavoidable fact of life. We can’t turn on the news without hearing about some sort of tragedy, and we all have either experienced or know someone who has experienced a major loss, an illness, abuse, or broken relationships. Unfortunately, many of us don’t know what to do when someone comes to us with those painful realities, which can then lead to more hurt and even more broken relationships. In order to love others well, we need to have a biblical understanding of suffering and how to approach it. 

What’s the issue?

The problem we find among Christians is that we often deny pain and suffering. We try to avoid our own pain, hiding behind smiling facades, and we shut down others’ pain through shame and spiritual platitudes. There are three major reasons why we shut down the pain of others:

    1. Suffering flies in the face of what we believe about God and Christianity. Many believe that being a Christian means an easy, pain-free life. On the contrary, Jesus said that in this world we will have trouble. Scripture is replete with believers who faced trials, persecution, and unspeakable suffering. While we undoubtedly have hope, peace, and joy through Jesus, that truth does not negate our very real pain. 
    2. It feels threatening. Other people’s suffering rubs against unhealed places within ourselves that make us feel uneasy. For example, if you grew up in a home where you were only allowed to express happy emotions, you may feel uncomfortable when you’re around someone who is crying or grieving. If you haven’t sought healing for the abuse you endured, the divorce you went through, or any other painful experience, then it may feel uncomfortable to be around someone who is going through something similar.  
    3. We don’t always know how to respond. What do you say when someone loses a loved one? What about when they come to you with a story of horrific abuse? Or maybe you know someone with chronic pain? Not knowing what to say leads us to anxiously throw Scripture at them or we may simply try to avoid them altogether. 

Loving the one who is suffering.

How might you support someone who is in the midst of deep pain?

    • Use the ministry of presence. Being present with them in their pain, even without saying anything, is a powerful gift.
    • Let them know you’re available if they want to talk. You may not have all the answers for them but simply listening to someone may help them to feel less alone. 
    • Connect them to other people or resources that may be helpful (i.e. counseling, food pantries, support groups, etc)
    • Reach out and ask them if they want company or if they prefer to be alone.
    • Offer practical help if that’s the need – bring them food, do their dishes, pay a bill, etc.
    • Avoid shaming and shutting them down with spiritual platitudes (i.e. “have more faith,” “leave it at the cross,” “God never gives you more than you can handle,” etc.) 
    • PRAY for them! Never underestimate when someone comes to mind. It could be the Holy Spirit nudging you to reach out to them and/or to pray for them. 
    • Ask God for wisdom. There’s a time to offer exhortation and encouragement, and there’s a time to be silent and to simply weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15 
    • Allow Christ to touch the unhealed places in your life so that you don’t react to others’ pain out of your own woundedness.

Bearing each other’s burdens

Walking with others in their pain may require some level of sacrifice, but we are called to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). That doesn’t mean doing for someone what they can do for themselves, but to help them carry a load that is too heavy on their own. We need each other! This is one of the beautiful things about being in Christian community and being part of the body of Christ – we don’t have to walk the road of suffering alone. If you want to love others well in their pain, then take some time to examine your own thoughts and feelings about suffering. Allow God to heal what needs to be healed and to renew what needs to be renewed in your heart and mind. He will use you as a vessel to bring encouragement and hope to those who are hurting.