A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend time with a friend I hadn’t really seen in a few years. We met at a coffee shop and walked to a park where we sat on metal benches while my two older children played on the play ground. We sat and talked, and tried (and failed), and stop my youngest from putting wood chips in his mouth. It was a good day.
We spoke friendship, (ours is going on 13 years) and we spoke about forgiveness. We talked about the Kingdom of God, and what it means to live here with eternal purpose flowing through our veins. We talked even about times of grief in our own friendship, and I took the opportunity to confess that if I could do it all over, there are some things I would do differently. And then she said something that startled me:
“You were there for me when my brother died, and that’s all that mattered.”
It wasn’t that I didn’t remember this— the phone call, the drive to her place, the tissues, and the tea. What startled me was this sudden realization, that of all the things good or bad that I have done over the course of our relationship, that this was what she remembered. Being there was what mattered.
As a little girl I suffered. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile then you know parts and pieces of my story.
It was awful, traumatic, and life-altering. And yet, I wonder constantly now who I would be if I hadn’t gone through that. My suffering wove a compassion into me that I doubt would be there otherwise.
Walking through suffering with someone else can be intimidating. There is no guide to social etiquette for a hospital waiting room. There is no step-by-step instruction manual for encouraging a friend who has recently lost a child. There is no form for encouraging text messages to someone who’s loved one is dying.
My own insecurities are often the first thing to stand in my way. Questions and doubts plague me: What if I don’t know what to say? What if they don’t want me to come? What if I do it wrong? I wish I could say it gets easier, but I have dealt with these questions just about as often as I have been asked by God to draw near to someone in the midst of unspeakable pain.
This is not to say that care and consideration of the actual needs of those that are hurting is unimportant, it is vital. Sensitivity is key. Asking questions of others who have gone through something similar is invaluable. But the first and foremost thing, is to just show up.
Doubts and fears arising out of self-preservation often lead to inaction; an inaction does not honor Christ. We know what happened to the servant who buried his talent in the sand. (Or if you don’t you can find the parable in the Bible, Matthew 25:14-30) We know that our faith without works is dead. (James 2:14-26) We cannot stand saying we believe, and yet choose to disobey all that Christ commanded us because we are afraid we’ll get it wrong.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord. when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'”Matthew 25: 34-40
Sometimes all you can do is pour the tea and weep with the friend who has suffered horrific abuse. The friend who has lost a loved one. The friend whose heart has been broken by marital infidelity.
The hardest part of suffering with others is that it never feels like enough.
Yet, Jesus doesn’t ask me to swoop in like Superman and make all the problems disappear; he asks me to do the practical things, and to be with the one who suffers, as though I am doing it all to Him. When I extend the with-ness of Christ’s presence to my suffering friend or loved one, I bring the Kingdom of Heaven a little closer.
I don’t need to be intimidated as I approach that front door, that hospital room, or prepare to press send on that text, because I’m doing it to Jesus. It is Him I am going to see. And He says it is enough.
If you are walking through suffering right now, I challenge you to take the risk and step out of isolation with someone you trust. My prayer is that God will lead you to that safe person who will sit with you, weep with you, pour the tea for you—even as they ultimately encourage you to look to the God who is ever at work even in the darkest of circumstances. Give them a chance to serve you as unto the Lord.
If you are walking next to someone who you know is hurting, I dare you to step out and be that friend who is willing to walk the hard road. It won’t be easy, but it is an honor and a privilege to be allowed into those moments with people. Show up for Jesus, wherever He is—in the face of a friend confined to a sick bed, in the face of the man in prison, in the face of the stranger who needs clothing—don’t miss out on seeing Jesus just because you are afraid you’ll do it wrong. Just show up, and look your suffering friend in the eyes, and see Jesus, you will.
Years from now, when there is little left of your memory or mine, the last things to go will not be the ways that we wronged each other, but the ways that we were the hands and feet of Jesus to each other. These moments of hardship bind us together; my closest friends are the ones with whom I have suffered, and those who have suffered with me. It’s not easy, and suffering with others is probably the most painful part of true love in a fallen world, but in the end, this must be what defines us:
Did we love? Did we serve the walking wounded right in front of us? Did we love others more than our own comfortable complacency?
When we do, we see it clear as day: suffering with others is an honor and a privilege, because when we minister there, we minister to Jesus himself.
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