It seems there is so much suffering in the world right now, and in my little world too. I have four friends who have lost their husbands, two to covid, and another dear couple whose daughter died. My mother-in-law is on hospice and I can’t even count the number of friends with chronic and terminal health issues. Hard times! Throw that on top of politics, pandemic, wars and drought and it feels overwhelming.
So, how do we “suffer well?”
First, we have to banish some unhelpful and toxic theological beliefs that cause unnecessary suffering.
The first is that “If you have enough faith, you’ll never get sick etc.…” I call BS on this one. Nothing in the Bible promises this, but there are plenty of verses that say IN our suffering God will be with us.
Second, “God causes our suffering to teach us something.” This is also not true. We suffer because we are human and live on earth with other humans. Again, God promises to be with us in our suffering (God’s rod and staff comfort us, etc.) but not to prevent it and certainly not to cause it. Suffering, however, often leads to our growth and we can learn many things through the school of suffering which God can help us understand. God is the greatest recycler of our s**t.
Third, “Christians (or good people) won’t suffer.” Nope, not true. There are Psalms called the “Psalms of Lament” for a reason; they give us words for our suffering. There is an entire book called Lamentations. Jesus suffered big time. Happy Clappy Christianity is not helpful for those of us who are suffering. We need to be real about our pain so we can support each other not candy coat our suffering with fake perfectionism.
If a friend is suffering, what should I do? Well, here’s what NOT to do.
- Don’t use trite sayings to try to comfort i.e., “God must have missed your husband so he called him home.” That is not only untrue, it is very unhelpful.
- Don’t say, “call me if you need me.” People who are hurting won’t call. Instead say, “I’m dropping off dinner Monday night.” Or, “Can I come by tomorrow and vacuum for you?’ When my friend Mike died a bunch of our friends whet over to finish house projects he hadn’t finished. Tangible help is good.
- Never dismiss or deny someone their grief process. Everyone grieves differently and in their own way and time. Just let them know you love them and will be along for the journey.
So how do I deal with my suffering?
First, I’d suggest we need to change our culture so it is okay to ask others for help. I’m thankful counseling has lost its sigma, at least with young folks. It is so much a part of their culture that I recently heard a song which included the words, “my counselor says…” It’s important to seek help for any kind of suffering whether that help comes from a professional, a pastor, or a group of friends. To get help we must be willing to ask for it.
Second, allow yourself to embrace your suffering. Instead of turning the pain away, stuffing it, or denying it, allow it to be. If you stuff pain it will come back in your body as stomach issues, back issues, headaches, etc. This is bad for you. If you sit with it, listen to it, express it, even welcome it, you will heal faster. Your pain, and the feelings that come with it, are a part of you just like your joy and happiness are. They want to be acknowledged, held, and loved too.
Third, and I know I say this in almost every blog, but if you can get out in nature, it is very healing. I just had the opportunity to get out into the big redwoods for the first time in a year and a half. It was a rough year and I was exhausted. Being in the trees felt like letting my soul unfurl. Then we went to the ocean and it was peaceful and beautiful and it rained and washed away my fatigue and depression. Nature is a healing place. Try to find somewhere beautiful to sit for a while and let God speak to you through creation.
Also, sometimes a ritual can help. We attended a service for our friends whose daughter died. It was in a liturgical church with a lot of ritual and religious images around. I was surprised how comforting I found that experience. When it is hard to find words for our suffering, ritual can help. You might write a letter to a deceased loved one, bury things that remind you of a painful break-up, or gather friends to share your pain around the full moon. Create a ritual to help yourself heal.
Suffering will always be with us. I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t suffered. The more we can be honest and help each other the better it will be for all of us. I’d love to hear how you deal with suffering. Prayer? Meditation? Sharing with friends? What helps you?
Top Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
Photo of friends by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com