When Suffering Comes Blow by Blow
NOVEMBER 16, 2021
“Some people just seem to get a larger dose of suffering.”
Ashley was sitting in the passenger seat as we drove away from a day in the city taking in a Frida Khalo exhibit, a little giddy about our brief reprieve from pandemic lockdowns. She was raised by an addict, one whose addiction would take her away from my friend just as she hit adulthood. Ashley has had plenty of her own suffering, much of it borne from a childhood of harshness and abandonment.
Later that evening I thought about what she said, weighing and measuring my own life. Unlike Ashley, my childhood was marked by happiness. Of course there was conflict, but there was also plenty of support and opportunity, and we never worried about a meal or who would drive us to baseball practice. The first half of my marriage was like that, too.
I couldn’t feel the suffering of others because I hadn’t really experienced it myself. God has given empaths that ability, but that was not me. I was blissfully unaware and honestly, I didn’t care. Easier to stick my head in the sand of my privilege.
And yet, “Some people seem to get a larger dose of suffering” could be the byline for the last decade-plus of our lives here:
-Our 7-week-old contracted a virus and lives with permanent brain damage
-I ran over our 5-year-old in our driveway. She survived but lives with debilitating anxiety
-Our 8-year-old’s appendix ruptured, sent her into septic shock, and landed her in the ICU for three weeks
-Our adult son saw his engagement blow up days before the wedding, marking a psychotic break that led to his bipolar diagnosis and adjusting to a life of mental health struggles
-We made what we believed was a wise and compassionate decision, but it was misunderstood by family and friends alike, starting panic attacks for me and uncharacteristic depression for my husband
-My husband was diagnosed with a nasal tumor that was precariously attached to his cribriform plate, between brain and nose. Surgery and post-care become our norm. As of this writing, the tumor is once again present, and surgery is once again scheduled
-Another adult son complained of a migraine, only to become unresponsive. He was diagnosed in the ER with a brain tumor that ruptured and required emergency surgery. He then contracted meningitis and was quarantined
-Yesterday, my beloved brother lost his five-year battle with cancer
It’s a lot.
After nearly two years of a pandemic that has thrown all of our lives into an agitated dither, many of us are suffering blow by blow by blow. How are we to face it? What can we do to allow Christ to work in us as we manage the day-to-day living that life continues to require of us, even in the midst of circumstances that threaten to knock us flat? I can offer a few things to consider:
1. There is no wrong way to do this. Take a bath or don’t. Turn off the TV or don’t. Make space in your life to say no to what you don’t need and yes to what you do.
2. Remember that rarely do others understand what you need. Show them grace.
3. People also don’t know what to say. Show them grace.
4. Sometimes showing people grace means asking them to give you space.
You can also recognize that what you are experiencing is suffering. Go ahead and name it so. Tell God how blindsided/stunned/frustrated/angry/devastated you are, because we cannot act as if he doesn’t already know. If we are at all familiar with the Bible, we have to admit that Christ came for the suffering and to suffer himself on our behalf. It is this suffering life to which we are called, but we cannot embrace its grace until we recognize that the Bible, Christ’s life, and ours in discipleship is a life called to pain and brokenness. God triumphs, though. This earth isn’t heaven.
Remember what I wrote earlier about not being able to feel the suffering of others because I hadn’t experienced suffering myself? You might be able to relate to that. It’s okay. We won’t always know what to say or do to help, but we can certainly grieve with those who grieve.
Do you find yourself unsure of what to do or say? How can you help someone who is suffering blow by blow by blow?
-Offer a listening ear.
-Send a note of encouragement.
-Send a meal.
-Don’t expect them to do what you think they should.
-Allow them to deal with their suffering in the way that is best for them, and only intervene if you sense danger.
The beautiful truth about suffering is that when we are experiencing the shattering of our expectations, God meets us right in the midst of every bit of it. The Bible has much to say about our troubles and tribulations, but it does not leave us stranded there. We have the hope of the living God who lovingly lets us know, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 1 Peter 5:10, CSB