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.”
There are times when God’s people face extraordinary difficulties. Though we know He is there, it can feel as if we will be broken from the weight of our burdens. We falter, we fail and, often, we complain, but God comes along side of us in our pain. Grace alone upholds us. Sadly, though, ofttimes when God’s children face such circumstances, other Christ-followers react in shock and turn from us, ignoring the very burdens they themselves could make lighter through some act of compassion. 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. Though Christians 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 is a rare thing to find those who will. It is as if we who suffer are lepers in the Kingdom of God.
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 by their spouse, we tell them that the other person “didn’t mean it”, or that they’ve “misunderstood”, or “if only you’d been better, done better, prayed more, tried harder or had more faith, this wouldn’t have happened”; 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, in some other sorry way, mitigate their pain, their sorrow, their loss.
I, like most, have known quite a few difficulties in my life. Over the last few years, the difficulties multiplied tremendously and one part of my life, and then another, and another, gave way. And, though in some ways, rebuilding has begun, in others, life is uncertain and continues to be full of pain. God in His graciousness, has, over the last couple of years, 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. It seems doubly so for those who have been abused.
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 lean on our Lord in our pain,partake of His succor and, from our experiences, learn to become comforters to others so that, when a suffering abused one turns to us, 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.”