2 Corinthians 1: 3, 4, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.”
Sometimes God shows His people extraordinary difficulties. His loving hand carefully chooses the burdens that are ours to bear, gently lays them on our shoulders and then, standing by our side, watches, guards and protects us. And, though we know He is there, at times it feels as if we will be broken from the weight. We falter, we fail and, often, we complain, but God, in His Sovereignty, rights us, focuses us and lays the burden squarely back on our bruised and weakened shoulders. Sometimes being broken is the point and so, guided and guarded by God, break we do. At other times, we stagger and right ourselves only to stagger again. Grace alone upholds us.
Sadly, ofttimes, when God bestows His gift of extraordinary difficulties, other Christ-followers react in shock and turn from us, flee from us, ignore our burdens. At those times, added to our burden of pain, fear, poverty, illness, abandonment, abuse or a thousand other difficulties, we now have to bear the burden of human aloneness. It is as if we, who suffer under God’s own care as directed by His hand, are lepers in the Kingdom of God. As such we often share the same fate, abandonment, as do lepers in the more physical, earthly, realm. And yet we are told in Holy Scripture that we are to “weep with those who weep” just as much as we “rejoice with those who rejoice”. It seems as if, for most, it is far, far easier to do one than the other.
A common approach to ministering to those in distress, especially distress that has a less-than-physical cause, is to lay the blame for a fellow Christian’s pain fully back on them. Like Job’s questionable friends, we accuse, castigate and condemn without ever stopping to think that we might be wrong in our accusations. Or, if we are perhaps a bit more loving in our approach, we tell the suffering one that “time will help you to get over it” or that “things really aren’t as bad as they seem” (ignoring the fact that they very well may be worse than we can hope to imagine): if they’ve been abused, we tell them that the other person “didn’t mean it”, or that they’ve “misunderstood”; if they’ve suffered great losses of the heart and of the mind, we tell them “the sun will still come up tomorrow” or “it could be worse, you know” or “if only you’d been better, done better, had more faith, this wouldn’t have happened”, or, in some other sorry way, mitigate their pain, their sorrow, their loss.
I, like most, have known quite a few difficulties in my life but, as with everything, all is of grace and, by God’s mercy, they’ve been tailored just for me. Still, at times, I feel the need to share, to seek prayers, to find comfort in the words, the companionship, of a fellow Christian traveler. Over the last few years, that’s where I’ve lived as the difficulties multiplied and one part of my life, and then another, and another, gave way. And, though in some ways, rebuilding has begun, in others, life continues to give way. God in His graciousness, has, over the last year, seen fit to give me a very few select travelers who not only understand but in some way share an intimate knowledge of my burdens for they’ve oft suffered in many of the same ways and, more importantly, who know the value of trusting God in difficulties and taking what we’ve learned and becoming comforters. Many times we’ve been able to comfort each other. For these precious few I daily thank God.
But besides these precious ones, when I’ve tried to share my pain with fellow Christians or, sadly even with leaders within the church, when I’ve dared to ask for prayers or guidance, when I’ve tried to explain my sorrows or sought to unburden myself (at those times when I can carry the burdens no longer), I’ve known the additional pain of being stared at in doubt, misunderstanding, even anger and confusion. All before the one I’d prayerfully turned to blanches and changes the subject, makes accusations, explains away my pain, or, more commonly, silently ignores the fact that I ever turned to them to begin with. As it is and has been with me so it is with many who suffer.
Are we really called by God to cast sorrow upon original sorrow by castigating and accusing those who are already wounded? Do we honor our Lord by ignoring their suffering, by changing the subject, denigrating their pain, refusing to listen? Do we bestow grace by walking away? Do we show Christ-likeness by refusing to try to understand simply because we don’t want to? Are we so callous as to allow our misunderstanding to cause us to fail to seek the truth and, through our failing, perhaps even become a pawn in the hand of Satan, an instrument used by him to pour salt into a fellow Christian’s open, bleeding, wounds? All of this in the Name of our precious Lord? Sadly, from my experiences and those of many I have known, these responses are often the norm.
To say we believe God is one thing. To live as if we believe is quite another. Let us, when God pours out His grace in the form of pain and difficulties, lean on Him, take His succor and, from our experiences, learn to become comforters so that we may respond to those who weep and mourn in a way that shows we live what we say we believe. When confronted by life’s wounded, pray we remember that the Lord has taught us, in Matthew 25: 40, “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.“