Humans don’t handle suffering well. After all, we weren’t meant to suffer. The whole experience, no matter how normal it is to us in our day-to-day lives, is still alien at our core.
Broken ourselves, we can hardly navigate our own issues. Let alone the issues of others.
Still, this is no answer for the many who suffer quietly in the supposed safe place for the hurting—the church. Yet go without the comfort of others.
As a pastor, this is part of my calling and passion. So I step into human hardship … albeit quite uncomfortably.
What’s interesting is that in any church, you’ll likely have a large group of sufferers who receive comfort. It seems that other church members deem this group’s reason for suffering quantifiable for comforting.
Maybe the reason for their suffering is more palatable to the church’s current culture. Perhaps they’ve just experienced a miscarriage, or unexpectedly lost a job.
The church reaches out to them. And truly everyone is happy for it. But those same caring comforters haven’t reached out to other types of suffering people.
Maybe they haven’t reached out to you. Except for the easy but cheap apology or insincere promise to pray.
Unfortunate suffering taboos
Perhaps the reason they don’t is because the cause of suffering is, for whatever reason, taboo. Fallout from a divorce? Emotional trauma from same-sex attraction? Confusion over gender dysphoria? Potential guilt around a rebelling child?
You might be wondering: why don’t they comfort these real-life sufferers with the same compassion that others receive?
It comes down to the false but popular belief that comforting means affirming. That somehow loving means approving.
Here’s an example. Imagine a homosexual teenager getting kicked out of his house. Or a middle-aged mom suddenly suffers from a mental breakdown and relapses back to drugs, something she’s been sober from for four years now. Or a man whose affair wrecked his marriage finds himself alone on Thanksgiving.
Should the church lean in to help?
Would Jesus help?
Is it possible to love someone despite difference of belief?
The answer to all of these is a resounding yes!
Isn’t loving neighbors the church’s middle name? Didn’t Jesus say that love is the church’s primary characteristic, that it’s (literally) how the world recognizes us: “Yup, there’s one of those Christians in action.”
Isn’t suffering suffering? Isn’t comforting comforting? Even in the Greek of The Good Samaritan, there’s no footnote or asterisk or exception clause.
Except those of us suffering alone, facing judgment or uncertainty, feel the exclusion.
Where to go from here?
If you are one of the many seeking long overdue comfort from your suffering, stay gracious. The church has wrinkles to iron out. It’s a gathering of sin-sick people commanded to comfort other sin-sick people. There are biases. Taboos. Inconsistencies.
People fall through the cracks. It’s not okay, but it’s there. You can be part of those who change the game. Create the culture. Treat your family better than they deserve. And hang tight until you receive the same.
Know Jesus sees you. Hebrews 4:15-16 holds true for you, so cling to it as paramount:
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Jesus the Suffering One, the Overlooked One, the Unnoticed One, died alone. People didn’t understand Him. The same masses who celebrated Him a week before utterly abandoned Him in His time of greatest need.
So hurl yourself at His feet. That’s truly the safest safe place to lament the lack of horizontal compassion. Know that He notices you, walks with you, and offers to heal you.
And speak out. In a warm, gracious tone explain to those closest to you–yes, those that aren’t comforting you–how you’ve felt, how it feels. Teach them.
Greater lessons don’t exist than the suffering explaining how to be comforted. Humble friends will respond in a convicted sorrow, a sincere apology. You have now equipped them to not only comfort you, but to comfort every other sufferer they encounter along the way.
You’ve been suffered for
While you might feel like it, you don’t suffer alone. You suffer with. But, best yet, you’ve been suffered for.
It’s not okay for the church to neglect and overlook a single suffering soul. Let’s not sugarcoat that. Still don’t forget that your sufferings are blood-coated. Jesus’s sacrifice has been made. Your sufferings now are outweighed by the glory to come.
Hold tight to the One who suffered out of love for you. And offer His love to anyone around you who needs it.
Copyright © 2019 Justin Talbert. All rights reserved.
Justin Talbert serves as the Student Pastor at Christ Community Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. He received his MDiv from Covenant Theological Seminary. Justin and his wife May, have three Vikings-in-training: Soren, Aksel, and Isen. You can find him on Instagram: @justinltalbert. And he regularly blogs at getgroundedministries.com.