A lot of people don’t know the story of how I believed I received my calling to pursue vocational ministry. It was in the fall of 2014, at a fall retreat with Cru at Ohio University that I believed I felt the Holy Spirit show me, that this was the path that I was called to take. As I was telling people that I felt God calling me to pursue leadership roles in the church, I was told that being a Christian leader meant that I show no weakness at all and that I had to have “all my stuff together” to be used by God. This mindset increased as I watched how Christians would often say things like “Well at least we don’t have it as bad as the Johnson family” or “That’s not a big deal at all”, or the one I heard the most often “Just put it in perspective”. I have seen in my own life at times, when I vocalized a struggle in my life and people have told me things like “Well, you are studying to be a minister, you should know the answer” or something similar. Please do not take this blog as me slandering those in my life or anyone else that gave me and others these answers. I know many people likely gave these answers honestly, trying to be helpful or may not have known what to do or say in that situation. But, when it comes to followers of Jesus, I do not believe that simply “putting things in perspective” is a biblical approach when we encounter suffering.
Paul writes in Galatians that we are to carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, we will fulfill the law of Christ. He also wrote in Romans that we are to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. Verses that combat this cultural belief that we cannot share our struggles. A belief that vulnerability and honesty during a struggle is simply a sign of being ungrateful or complaining. We can unintentionally be the Pharisee or the Levite in the Good Samaritan Parable to the suffering people we encounter, by using a motivational bumper sticker quote with our “we are too blessed to be stressed” answers. So, the question remains, how do we be the hands and feet of Jesus to people suffering in our lives? Here are 3 things to remember as we pursue doing exactly that.
1. Trauma is a unique journey that people travel in different ways
During my time volunteering at a suicide chat line (and through my own experiences), I found this to be the case when talking with people who are suffering. I watched as people shared stories of break ups, financial hardships, arguments with family, personal failures, addictions, stresses with work/school, depression, anxiety, and more. Many different stories and journeys, with one thing in common. These were people made in God’s image in pain and I realised that some were going through similar circumstances but responding in different ways. I realised trauma is a complicated thing because different things affect different people in different ways. Things that brought pain to one person’s life seemed to not affect another person in the same way. I also realized that this did not take away the pain they were feeling, just because someone else “had it worse” or that someone else was going through something similar and did not experience the level of pain that they were feeling. Humanity is diverse and we must remember humanity will have a diverse response to the things in this world.
2. All Pain Matters to God so All Pain Should Matter to us as Believers
As I entered into these various stories of suffering with many different people, I found that every single instance of pain mattered to God so it should matter to me. So often we can hear a story of sadness and tend to accidentally (or unfortunately, sometimes purposefully) make people feel like the pain that they are experiencing does not matter. I found that when I got the “motivational bumper sticker quotes” or when I was told to figure it out or put it in perspective when I shared my suffering with people, my mind immediately went to my pain does not matter and I thought that if it did not matter to them, it does not matter to God. The truth is, all pain matters to God, even if, in our own eyes. it’s “no big deal”. We should always care when someone is suffering because God always cares.
3. Presence Can Often Be the Best Way to Bear Each Other’s Burdens
I can still remember a quote from one of my ministry professors during our class section on being a pastor during funerals. “Sometimes the worst thing we can do is try to have an answer”. There are horrendous events that happen that we as humans will never find an answer for. The problem of suffering has plagued the greatest of human minds and philosophers for ages. There are things that only God can understand. Sometimes, we have to speak the truth in love, but going back to the earlier situations of not knowing what to say or do to care for someone, most often, the best thing we can do is be present. Entering into that suffering with someone, crying with them, genuinely praying for them and with them, and sitting with them can change someone’s life and people can see the love of Jesus through our empathy, compassion, and us being present in their situation. Fully practicing weeping with those who weep can truly change the world.
I have seen that, even in my own experiences how I have seen the love and compassion that God has for me, just by people showing that they care and by understanding that I am in deep pain, that it matters to them and God, and that they wanted me to invite them into that pain with me. Through those things, God has brought healing to my own life and I have seen how he has used those things to help me to reach others who are suffering. If the church can truly be a place of bearing each other’s burdens, healing, empathy, and compassion and we can act on those values, I have no doubt we would see more and more people come to know of the love that God has for them.
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