Frederick Schmidt in When Suffering Persists has more to say about the “candid faithful” who just seem to know how to come alongside of others to encourage, to empathize, to be of genuine help in time of crisis and trouble. They are those who know how to speak an appropriate word to others who grieve or experience traumatic events. As those who brighten a room by their presence, they would teach the rest of us how to become a caring community. In a previous writing on this page, I have already cited some of these helps. Let me continue to paraphrase the final three points that these caring people help us to learn:
They resist being judgmental of the words or actions of those who suffer. We all say and do things that under normal circumstances we would never portray in our speech or actions. During stressful and traumatic times, we will experience a kaleidoscope of emotions, including anger, rage, disillusionment, doubt, discouragement, disbelief, and etcetera. Those who truly want to help will resist weighing the spiritual maturity or worth of those who suffer based upon that person’s response to their suffering. Those who struggle in times of suffering are not necessarily spiritually deficient, but may experience moments of disorientation and questioning. None of us are exempt. Recall the words of the psalmist:
Lord, listen to my prayer; let my cry for help come to you.
Do not hide from me in my time of trouble.
Pay attention to me.
When I cry for help, answer me quickly.
My life is passing away like smoke, and my bones are burned up with fire.
My heart is like grass that has been cut and dried.
I forget to eat.
Because of my grief, my skin hangs on my bones.
I am like a desert owl, like an owl living among the ruins.
I lie awake.
I am like a lonely bird on a housetop.
They will acknowledge and oppose unjust suffering. Some suffer because of disease or illness that is a part of our human experience. Some suffering comes because of our own choices. At times, however, there is suffering that is the result of human cruelty or callousness by the hand of others. Those who would be a caring community should be able to embrace the pain, anger, and despair of those who suffer; practice solidarity with the people who do; and oppose the cause wherever possible. There may be times when we need to candidly “speak the truth, in love” in order that others might “grow up in all things into him…that is, Christ.” We will do so, however, exercising great care and discernment.
They practice being present. Those who suffer, frequently testify to the healing, reassuring character of someone who was willing to be prayerfully present with them at a time of loss or serious illness. Schmidt says it well, “The reason, it seems to me, is deeply rooted in the relational world in which God has place us. Present to one another, we extend the presence of God, meeting a need that is more basic than any we might face in the moment of suffering. The ability not only to listen, but to create a gracious space where listening can take place, is a reminder of the larger relationship we share with God…Through simple presence we experience love and acceptance—the peace to “be”—whoever we are, however we are.”
Author: Tom Nuckels