I routinely hear horror stories about church leaders mistreating and, in many cases, bullying people who suffer. Ironically, suffering is something Jesus did often. He and his disciples were no strangers to suffering. In fact, Jesus told them that they would experience tremendous suffering. There was no way to sugar coat it. Jesus never promised them comfort, wealth, or health. Instead, he promised them eternal life. Suffering is something that is as sure as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. It is guaranteed for all of us.
Yet, so many of us were ill equipped by the church to endure it. Any of us who have suffered know how lonely it is. We often lose friends and family during seasons of suffering. Ask anyone who has lost loved ones. The three-month-rule is almost guaranteed. People will appear out of the woodwork to deliver sympathy cards, calls, and meals. Then after three months its as if a switch is turned off and all those people who vowed to never leave are. . . gone. This is how suffering works. It is lonely. It is heavy. And often people ridicule those who are suffering, telling them to “hurry up and get well.” But suffering doesn’t work that way. Suffering lingers, and has lingering effects. Depression and anxiety are common. Sadness is almost guaranteed.
Isaiah said of the coming messiah, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:3-4 ESV). People do, in fact, hide their faces from those who suffer. Christ was a man of sorrows and even bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. Yet people use this same Christ to bully others into believing that he rejects Christians who suffer. Abused people are told to “forgive and move on.” Depressed people are told to “have more faith.” Sad people are told to “cheer up.”
Yet Christ suffers with us. And he equips us for ministry by calling us to suffer with and for others. The Lord, through a vision, told Ananias that Paul would suffer: “Go for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16).
If we are going to equip one another for works of ministry, let’s begin by preparing each other to suffer. Until we suffer, we will never fully comprehend what others are going through. Until we suffer, we will fail to have empathy for those whose lives are wrecked. On the other hand, when we suffer we see people with a different lens. Compassion guides us and we understand the loneliness they feel. We should begin by teaching our children that suffering exists. But not just that it exists, but that there is a solution. We can sit with those who suffer. We can share in their pain. We can offer them love and hope. And we can be the hands and feet of Jesus to them.