There is suffering in everyone’s story. Talk to anyone, have a coffee with them, listen to them talk about their lives for long enough and you’ll find suffering in their journey. From financial difficulties and physical illness, to the loss of a loved one, suffering is always present in the narrative of life.
At the same time, suffering isn’t all the same. One person’s battle with cancer isn’t the same as a mother’s loss of a child. A teenager’s grief towards failing a major examination isn’t the same as a child’s loss of his favourite toy. But when people speak of their suffering, everyone listens.
There’s something almost beautiful about suffering in the way that people connect with it. It reminds me of something C.S. Lewis once wrote:
“Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.” (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain)
Our suffering provides evidence for the life that flows through us. It is what makes us human, and what connects us to the overall lifestream of the community.
However, there are moments when we misinterpret suffering. In that moment of suffering, the resulting pain – whether mild or intense – becomes a point of focus. And that focus on pain can cause suffering to last much longer than it is supposed to.
As an individual, my worldview can become skewed by my pain: Being bullied, a broken self-image, experiencing a divorce, growing up in a broken family. We qualify our suffering, believing our pain is exclusively ours. Our scars are evidence of how real that pain was, and our suffering becomes our story.
And sometimes this story is what we use to justify the way we turn out to be, or even hold God responsible for the way things are.
In late 2014, my mum discovered a very large tumour in her womb, which turned out to be ovarian cancer. We immediately found ourselves to be in a dilemma, having to make the difficult decision over which of the multiple treatments available she should go for.
And just when we thought that nothing could possibly make things worse, my sister also discovered a large cyst in her womb soon after, and she too had to get it tested for cancer.
In a mere week, my world was torn apart.
Anyone in our place would have felt like they had the right to be devastated. My mum wrestled with God about her cancer. My sister, whilst grieving for my mum, struggled with her own fears of being diagnosed with cancer.
Even I wrestled with God, asking Him why such calamities had befallen my family. In moments of suffering, it always seems fair to grieve. But when suffering makes you the centrepiece of what’s happening, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. For me, it was impossible to see anything beyond my family’s suffering.
Our friend Job from the Bible faced a similar predicament:
“If only my anguish could be weighed and all my misery be placed on the scales! It would surely outweigh the sand of the seas— no wonder my words have been impetuous.” (Job 6:2-3)
I did not believe I deserved what my family had gone through, I believed I deserved better. I was hurting, and I was indignant. Yet, in these sufferings, God remained unchanged.
“Therefore listen to me, you men of understanding. It is impossible for God to do wrong, and for the Almighty to act unjustly.” (Job 34:10)
God is always sovereign, He doesn’t change. I can always trust Him, it’s just that sometimes I don’t. As my family persevered in trusting God and pointing each other towards Him, He prevailed. By His grace, my mum was fully healed from cancer and my sister’s cyst was found benign and removed without further complication.
By God’s grace, we were shown new heights of His unchanging goodness. You see, in the loving hands of our good God, suffering is never the end – He is.
“The best gift God can give you is not health or prosperity or happiness in this world, but more of himself.” (Vaneetha Risner)
How do we then respond to those who are suffering? We empathise with compassion. Empathising doesn’t mean that we are able to fully understand how someone else feels. But as we sit with them in their suffering, we learn to appreciate the nuances of their situation and how they are personally making sense of it.
The word compassion is derived from the Latin term “compati”: “com“, which means to share, and “pati“, which means suffering. When we have compassion for another, we are sharing in the suffering of others. Perhaps I may not have suffered the way you did, but it should not stop me from sharing in your pain.
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1)
God is the ultimate author and He has the final say. Until the day He calls us home, we can always choose to proclaim His faithfulness and His love for all generations. Suffering is temporary, but its rewards – the divine revelations it unveils – are eternal.
“Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Psalms 30:5b)
This was originally written as a note on Facebook.