Sharing Someone's Pain
Entering Into Another's Suffering
When you read this title, what do you think? When you look at the picture above, what impressions do you get from it? What do you believe that sharing another's pain will mean for you? Does it mean you'll have to 'suspend' your life in order to share someone else's anguish so much, that you won't have enough energy left over to live for yourself? What images run through your head? Do they make you feel compassion, or want to run and hide?
As a Christian and a minister, I have struggled internally with both of these very reactions warring inside of me. Does that sound bad? As a representative of my faith, I've encountered many people (those who share my faith, and those who do not) that have a grave misconception about Christianity; how it should look-especially, how those who serve in ministry should 'carry' themselves. Do these reactions mean I am less of a Christian? Does the Christian faith promote that we'll never struggle with our human instincts or our paradigms while we're practicing our faith? Or, is that exactly what should be a part of our Christian experience? Isn't it really a struggle to re-train our reactions and paradigms, to line up with the One we say we follow?
So, why take a look at sharing someone else's pain? To be upfront with you, sometimes the question of being there for others who're going through extraordinary pain and anguish, causes us to face what we really believe about our own security. To some, they have no qualms about expressing compassion verbally, or by actions. However, there are others that experience an uncomfortable reaction. Not just the natural uncomfortable feeling we may get, from awkward moments, while trying to comfort someone during hard times. Not at all. I'm speaking about emotions much more stronger than that. I'm talking about a real fear and nervousness that 'paralyzes' someone from taking steps to look past themselves, to comfort someone else.
There are some that avoid others who are going through difficult times. They may excuse themselves by saying that they feel the person experiencing difficult circumstances 'just needs to have some time to themselves'. Although this can be truly meant by some, it's far from what the real reason is by people experiencing this kind of anxiety. This fear causes one to retreat, and become too self-protective. Avoidance, and excusing one's self from comforting another- all are are tactics used by those bound by these emotions.
So, is this a 'cop out' used by people who really can control themselves? Let me tell you of someone else's journey that I know of. He's a fellow minister, and runs a church in an area where many other churches had already closed their doors and left for 'safer grounds'. My colleague struggled with the same dilemma. Should he stay or go. Let me inform you just what kind of community he was in. I had a hard time believing it myself, and found it difficult to fathom the place he ministered in. In fact, when hearing of some of the things he described in great detail, it made me want to both recoil and weep at the same time. We'll call my friend 'Rob'.
Rob said how, in the community he ministered in, there was little value for human life. He described one incident where he was walking down a street one day, and noticed the leg of a small infant sticking out from behind a bush. The description he gave, immediately made me sick, and I wanted to cry. He told me stories of children being raped in broad daylight, while their mothers who were addicted to hard drugs, allowed it. You see, it was the only free way they could get their fix from the dealers. Either forcibly prostituting their children to others, or, to the dealers themselves-it guaranteed they would get their fix for that day. You see, these are the people that attended Rob's church ministry. Most of them were the children. Where he both lived and worked, human life was cheap. If you were a child, it was even cheaper.
Rob would often recount stories of some of the kid's he cared for, dying in the most horrific ways. He was overtaken with the sorrow of the relatives who lost these children. Overwhelmed with sharp and deep pain. His own, and theirs. He was faced with the decision, that if he left, his church was one of the last places of refuge that would be gone. If he stayed, how would he deal with his overpowering emotions that now made him want to run, and pretend he never knew these people or their desperate situations? Can you blame him? Although this is an extreme situation, this is exactly the same overwhelming feelings others go through. Its irrelevant, if it is something as simple as comforting someone, or as extreme as my friend Rob's circumstances. Emotions that are intense like this, do not regard whether the situation is really that bad or not. My friend finally decided to stay. He needed the support of others to work through his feelings. He also needed the support of Someone else he'd overlooked. Being caught up in the emotions of others and his own, made him lose focus of Who it was that gave him strength.
Why am I a writing about this? I want to inform you of a real fear that is pervasive in society today, as well as in the Christian faith. It's often mistaken for apathy. Many deal with this kind of fear. They avoid another's suffering, not knowing how to respond to the emotions they're feeling, or witnessing from someone else. They don't know that part of the fear they feel is rooted in their own insecurities. You see, some may begin to ask questions like, What if that could happen to me? Or, Why did God allow that?! Would He allow that to me? 'Christianese' responses don't help here. Typical questions like these aren't covered in any class rooms or even by some lay people. The truth is, no one really knows why these things happen, (or if they could happen to you). What is definite is that He is with you, even through difficulties.
Does that mean God is powerless? These are some of the same questions that someone well known in the bible probably asked himself, while he was going through very tragic times in his life. Who am I speaking about? King David. If we read in the book of Samuel in the Old Testament, we see that David had it pretty rough to begin with. He had a King who both envied and hated him. I am referring to King Saul. After David (who was only a boy at the time) had killed the Philistine Goliath, Saul became murderously envious of him (I Samuel 18:7-10). Saul became jealous, when, after David's victory, local women celebrated by singing, "Saul has slain his thousands, and David, his ten thousands." (I Sam. 18:7). Saul became so enraged at this, the very next day verse 10 says "...an evil spirit..." overtook him. The rest is history-literally.
Samuel himself, prophesied that David would take over the throne, even before the whole fiasco occurred. David knew he was meant to reign from the start. He had many soldiers constantly hunt him. Some in the land were for him, and others against him. David lived most of his life on the run, not knowing who he could trust. At one point, he must've questioned God, wondering why, if he had such a wonderful future, were all of these horrible things happening to him? You can read his intense anguish in the book of psalms (the majority of which was written by David). He is full of questions towards God. Why is at the root of them all. He was almost killed by Saul many times. Later, when he was older, he had to run again. This time from his son Absalom, who wanted to kill him and take away his throne. Why is a question he must've asked frequently. If anyone was 'attacked' with fear, David had plenty of reason to be.
What was David's solution? It's simple, but the most difficult thing any human being can do, especially, when it seems that all the odds are against them. Quite frankly, you need to hang on. if you try to do this on your own strength, you will only be able to go so far. You may have some victories, but never as many, or as awesome as the one you can have with God's help. Hanging on and overcoming things in an exceptional way, can only be done through God's power. Consider my friend Rob. Hanging on (with Christ's help), ended up being the only solution for his dilemma. The only other choice was running. An unfortunate decision many do make in secular society and ministry. We can allow our emotions to so overwhelm us, we feel we can't deal with them (and certainly not alone!). Many give up and find reasons to justify quitting. Intense fear that paralyzes people, needs the supernatural help of God and friends (as in the case of Rob) helping them get through it. We shouldn't allow emotions like this to reign over us. If we do, we will only develop a habit of running throughout our lives.
Steps Towards Change
Sometimes, we have people that feed these feelings of fear, and inadequacy we're dealing with. They are always willing to help us 'feel better' about walking away. They're always there to encourage us to have false feelings of 'peace' about giving up on all our efforts. Usually, these people have a habit of running themselves. We don't always recognize them at first, simply because they may not struggle with their feelings of inadequacies in the same areas as we do. So, what do we do? Distancing ourselves from these kind of people (I call toxic), is the first step. It doesn't mean we've lost God's love for them. It does mean that some people are healthier to love at a distance. That may sound humorous, but true. The second thing we must do, is find out what God has to say about our circumstances and feelings. Search God's word. Remember what it says in II Timothy 1:7, "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but power, love, and a sound mind." If anything we think or feel doesn't line up with that, it's time to re-evaluate ourselves. If someone is encouraging our anxieties, feelings of inadequacy, (or any other insecurity), its time to re-evaluate them as a good source of advice or influence in our lives. Don't let them have greater sway then God and what He says!
Where do we go from here? Once we've re-established His empowerment in our lives, we will truly be free to take on any challenge that we go through in life. We may not understand why things happen, but we can be assured of Who gives us power to go through our circumstances. We also need to rely on other Christian brothers and sisters that are like-minded (that means on the same wave-length), when it comes to forging on in life with God, we also need friends that build us up! We need to 'trim' off those who 'suck' the faith and empowerment out of us. Those who live a life of running will become apparent. They continuously live allowing their emotions 'have them'. I've said this in other articles. There is a definite difference between your emotions 'having you', and 'you having them'.
Most people who allow there fears to cause them to have a habit of running, are excuse oriented. They are typically needy, and in constant 'crisis mode'. Whatever happens to them, 'it never works for me' is the repetitive theme. They've always got a very good reason why it ends up in failure or crisis! Remember, misery loves company. If they can get us to 'see the light' about our situation, and walk away from our challenges, then they feel better about themselves and having walked away from their. Many people who live like this, never take any significant steps of faith in life. If we go ahead and forge on without them, and it doesn't work out, they'll have an 'I told you so' attitude (even if they don't actually say it). If it does work, then they'll say "I knew you could do it!" (as if they really did!). They will then try to re-focus the attention towards themselves in self-pity (hoping you'll go along with it) and wonder why (out loudly) things never work out for them. We can now see how this can become a toxic relationship. We need to learn to love people like this 'from a distance'. This is not un-Christian at all. If Jesus hung around these kind of people, or gave credence to what they had to say, He would never have gotten His ministry off the ground! Nor would King David have become a king at all. So, now we have to establish Who (God) to have a say in our lives overall. We've also solidified who we need in our lives as friends, and whose words we'll give more attention to. We've also established that we need to live ruling our feelings and not the other way around. So, how does this help us share (in a healthy way), the grief of another?
People experiencing grief are unlike those who have a habit of running in their lives. Those in truly difficult circumstances, and still take 'the bull by the horn' do face life. The hard times they are going through cause real confusion and sorrow. They question, just as King David did. Just like my colleague Rob did....they ask, why? They truly want an answer. God allows us to ask this question in life. I believe there is an answer. I don't know what that might be for each person, but I do know what James 1:5 says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, Who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." I don't believe in the 'flowery' explanations that some other ministers give. These ministers suggest that we may never know until we reach heaven. That's an empty explanation to those experiencing true grief. That just tells me they really don't know, but feel you need to say something to comfort someone. Just say, "I...don't...know." and be honest! I do believe He will answer! Whether it comes through another person, scripture, or He calls your attention to something. He has even given me revelation about my own difficult circumstances. What loving parent doesn't want to comfort his child and answer them when they're hurt and confused? Maybe He'll even give you a 'tug' in a certain direction inside of your heart-all of these tactics, He uses to answer us. We need to create an atmosphere where we're willing to pursue God for an answer. We also need to be willing to receive someone's efforts in comforting us as well.
Once we're ready to comfort someone in their time of need. Now we're ready to 'enter into their suffering'. It doesn't mean losing ourselves in their emotional pain and experience helplessness. It does means not always having to have the answer for them, just as we don't often have it for ourselves. It means pointing them to the One who can give them the answers (when they're ready), to go to Him. Sometimes being an ear and not saying a word is all you need. it may just mean holding them and letting them grieve, until they're ready to face life with a little more strength of their own. God and you, may be all the strength they feel they have right now. Crying with them, may be even better than having all the advice in the world, while they're in that empty and desolate place they feel they're in. As a minister, I have had to learn to 'keep my mouth shut' at these times. I've had to silently remind myself of what Romans 12:15 & 16 has to say about these moments, "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. live in harmony with one another..." This is a lesson I have both failed at (and at other times), succeeded. My hope is that you will also succeed with His help! That you can live in victory with Christ even while you laugh or cry (whether alone or with another) through your life.
Please click on the link below for the video Beauty From Pain by Superchik. May it minister to you if you are grieving.
- Beauty From Pain
This is a video from Superchik. It has very clear images of pain and grief. Unfortunately, I couldn't plug-in the video, as it is from Tangle (formally GodTube)