Suffering seems to be a theme in my life lately. Not just going through it, but also learning and hearing perspectives on it. A couple weekends ago I was able to attend the Biblical Response to Mental Health conference and, not surprisingly, suffering was a significant theme throughout each of the topics. Then, as I’ve been reading through “Peacemaking Women” for my own personal study/growth, the various types of suffering filled the pages in the first section. Even if you didn’t get to attend the conference or aren’t reading the book, just looking around you as you go about your day shows a simple truth: we’re suffering. It’s a strong word that covers a broad variety (included would be grief, loneliness, anxiety, depression, etc.), but it’s a definite theme in our lives.
So, amidst all this suffering, how in the world do we handle it? During the times it becomes unbearable and the times when it’s labeled as ‘a normal stress in life’? The natural response we’ve learned to give is “together, of course!” Except, how many times do we say but not do? To take a step further, how many times do we jump at the chance to serve someone, to be there by their side during a hardship and then refuse help or don’t ask for any when our own needs arise?
We’ve tricked ourselves into thinking that simply saying “I’m doing alright!” or “I’m okay” to friends at church is a perfectly acceptable response to the usual “how are you doing?”. Yet I’ve been learning that I’m training myself to rely on me only to cover my needs. To point the finger back to myself, just last week I was suffering from immense physical pain, hobbling around as discreetly as possible because I was embarrassed to have been injured and hurting. Someone would notice, of course, and ask if I was alright. I simply waved them off with a smile and “Oh it’s just life!” A text from a friend afterwards reminded me that it is perfectly ok to share my needs. In fact, looking back, it’s really ridiculous the way I was feeling about it. You may have even laughed or given a ‘what?!’ face to your computer screen as you read this. The fact remains, however, that it is what I felt in the moment. How many of us do that, though? How many times do we try to hide our suffering- be it physical, spiritual, emotional- from the rest of the world? We’ve heard it spoken from the topic of not letting pride get in the way- and that’s perfectly true- but I ask, how many of us do it out of a sense of not wanting to become a burden to others. Maybe especially if we already know that that friend that is asking us is suffering from their own personal things? I know I’d raise my hand on that one. I hate the idea of being a burden to someone else. Yet I never, ever think others are being a burden to me when they ask me for something. Instead, I am honored that they would include me in this detail of their life. So why don’t I do the same back to them?
"Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ." Galations 6:2
Going back to the right response of suffering together, I’ve realized that I really don’t suffer with anyone. Not truly. I may sit with them during lunch and listen to the stress of their life, or hold their hand during a grandparent’s funeral, or hug them in silence as they cry on my shoulder, but that doesn’t quite count as suffering with.
In the Peacemaking Woman book, Tara (one of the authors) shared about a time that she had suffered next to a neighbor. The two were in polar opposite seasons of their lives; Tara was a mom all alone with a toddler and a newborn trying to care for them and keep her sanity, her neighbor was a mom of three with her own mother just ten minutes down the road who was always available to help. Tara’s husband was struggling with his job and making ends meet, her neighbors were flourishing financially with the husband’s new promotion and about to buy a beautiful house. Tara shared that her heart grew bitter during this season, knowing her own suffering and her neighbor’s joy. Yet within that same year, their roles suddenly swapped. Tara’s husband got a new job that put them in a better financial situation, her mother came to live with them to be helpful, and she had finally found her rhythm in her season of motherhood. Her neighbor, however, was now truly suffering as her husband lost his job, her mother passed away suddenly, and her baby was constantly fussy with colic. As Tara stood by the casket of her neighbor’s mother, she suddenly realized that her bitterness in the past had destroyed the chance her current-self had from being able to suffer with her neighbor.
"This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater lover has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends." John 15:12-13
Although she was dealing with bitterness, not a fear of being a burden to others, the situation still applies the same. When we deny others from being a part of our burdens and sharing our suffering, we deny ourselves the chance at a future of being there for them in their turn. I speak mostly to myself as this is something God has been working on in me lately. Be it pride, not wanting to be a burden, or bitterness/envy that keeps me from allowing others in to see my hurts and pains and to be there with me, the point is that it’s keeping me from true and harmonious fellowship with others. Because no matter how open I am to bearing other’s burdens and being there for them when they need me, if they never get to do the same for me they will eventually start to feel guilty for always being the one that needs something and soon they may not even come to me anymore.
So when we say we need to bear each other’s burdens and suffer together, sometimes that means you’re the one on the other end of the suffering stick. Maybe it’s time for you to ask for help- even if it’s simply reaching out on a Sunday afternoon and, instead of saying “I’m fine”, be honest and say “Things are hard right now, but I know you need to get to service… can we grab coffee this week and talk?”
"A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." Proverbs 17:17
Today I got to witness the most beautiful form of community within the sisterhood at church. We got to pray over a beloved friend as a prayer quilt was given to her. The quilt had been made by a group of women in the church from Sisters in Stitches and had been prayed over multiple times. This woman allowed all of us, even ones she may not know very well personally but will know eternally, into her personal life to share in her suffering. To love on her, to pray over her, to be there for her. And I plan to practice my own words the next time one of those women ask me, “How are you doing today, Sarah?” by being honest- even if it must be brief- and allow them to share my burden with me.
All MCC Ministry in person meetings are suspended at this time BUT many ministries are reaching out through phone calls, emails and digital platforms such as Skype, Zoom, and Googlemeetings. Contact your ministry leader to see if this is an option for you!