Entering into Suffering
Welcome to our April edition of Ezer Equipped! We’ve covered a lot of ground over the last couple of months: radical hospitality, friendship, and prejudice. All of these topics impact how we live out our calling as ezers. If you are new to our newsletter and aren’t familiar with the term "ezer", we encourage you to check out our Biblical Femininity study which explores what it means to be a woman created in God’s image.
This month we are discussing the importance of entering into others’ suffering. Suffering is inevitable; it’s part of life. People all around us are suffering from disease, abuse, chronic pain, mental illness, the death of loved ones, poverty, wayward children, infidelity, infertility, betrayal. The list could go on and on. If I am honest, it can get pretty overwhelming at times. I see so many needs, so many who are hurting and confused, so many who are dealing with difficult circumstances or gut-wrenching tragedies. Some days I run toward those who are suffering, eager to enter into that sacred space with them. Some days I run away because I don’t know what to do or say. And some days I am just completely blind to them because I am too preoccupied with my own life, my own schedule, and my own “needs”.
Entering into others’ suffering isn’t easy. In fact, it’s often very uncomfortable. It’s inconvenient and disruptive to our own lives. It’s messy and challenging and exposing and overwhelming. But it’s a huge part of what it means to be the church, to be the body of Christ! We learn from Jesus that it is right and good to move toward someone in pain—even when we don’t know what to do or say. The gospels are full of Jesus’ response to suffering. He acknowledged those that others overlooked. He touched those that others wouldn’t. He wept alongside those who grieved. He allowed his day to be interrupted. He saw those who were suffering and treated them with dignity and compassion. He allowed them to come near and to draw strength from him.
You are not responsible for every person or every need. You cannot possibly respond to all the suffering around you. The body has many members—we all play a small part in carrying the load of others. In some situations you will carry more weight; in other situations, you may only be praying. But no one is off the hook! We are all called to do something, to do our part. Our responsibility is to show up, to move toward them, and extend the same comfort to them that God has given us (2 Corinthians 1:3-5), to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15), to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), to seek some practical way to meet one another’s needs, and to pray for one another at all times. And in this way, we reflect the Ezer nature of God—the one who entered into our suffering, bearing our burdens, bringing us the hope and comfort of the gospel and ultimately meeting our greatest need through Jesus Christ.
Article: Say Something
by: Anne Lowrey Forster
This article explores five types of things we can say to those who are in a season of suffering.
"So we find ourselves paralyzed by fear. It’s a brilliant Screwtape-esque move. We are unable to bear one another’s burdens because we are rendered mute. If we speak, we might violate this new law of saying something we should never say, so we stay over here, keep to ourselves, and let our fellow humans suffer alone, magnifying the effect that suffering has on all of us. I’d like to make a plea. Say something."
Article: The Work of Bearing Burdens
by: Abigail Murrish
This article looks at five ways we can bear one another’s burdens.
"Look for those in your community with burdens and move toward them. Listen to them. Weep with them. Provide them a safe space and serve them. Show them Jesus, and realize your own need for Him along the way."
Book: Just Show Up
by: Kara Tippetts and Jill Lynn Buteyn
This book explores what it means to enter into someone’s suffering in spite of our own insufficiency, insecurity, and discomfort.
“If there is one constant in our world, it’s pain and suffering. Just look around. It might be a woman dying of cancer. It might be a neighbor dying inside of loneliness. We have to be careful not to put a grade on pain, like hers is greater than his. Pain is pain, and suffering is suffering. What this means, though, is that each and every day of our lives is filled with opportunities to just show up in someone’s life. We can set aside a little of ourselves, step into someone else’s story, and see how Jesus shows up. And, my dear friends, Jesus always shows up. Always.”
by: Megan Devine
This brief four-minute film explores a few common mistakes we make in our role as comforters and proposes a better way.
“Cheering people up, telling them to be strong and persevere, helping them move on—it doesn’t actually work.”
Podcast: The Role of Friendship in Suffering
by: Bill White
In this podcast, Bill discusses the role of friendship in suffering. He explores some reasons why we struggle and gives four suggestions for how to comfort those in need.
“Some of you have been going through a difficult time and somebody forced you to swallow a Jesus pill. They said, ‘Here take this bible verse and call me in the morning and this will make it all better.’ And you choked it down but it didn’t work and you were left feeling wounded and not loved and angry and a little frustrated.”
Podcast: Just Show Up Q&A
by: Blythe Hunt and Jill Buteyn
This podcast is a conversation between two women who journeyed alongside their friend, Kara Tippetts, through her battle with cancer. Throughout the podcast, they answer practical questions from listeners on how to show up for those who are suffering.
“This life is full of hard. It’s full of suffering. Everyone around you is suffering for some reason. It may not be that they are dying of cancer, but it could be something else. If we could treat everybody around us with that grace that we all need, that grace that says, ‘I see you. I know that your heart is most likely hurting for one reason or another, and I want to meet you with kindness in that place’, it becomes just a general attitude we have toward people.”
We encourage you to use these conversation starters as a means of self-reflection and for discussion within your community.
- What are a few ways you typically respond when your friend is in a season of suffering?
- What keeps you at a distance when others are suffering?
- Make a list of people in your life right now who are going through a difficult season because of death, divorce, infertility, miscarriage, illness, job loss, or other reasons. How would you describe the way you have entered into their suffering?
- If you have gone through a season of suffering, share what was helpful and what was hurtful about how those around you responded. What do you learn from this?
- In what ways might you have added to someone’s suffering? (Examples: assuming they are suffering due to some sin or lack of faith in their life; minimizing, dismissing, or comparing their suffering to others; avoiding them or avoiding acknowledging their pain in conversations with them)
- Take some time to consider this graphic on Concern and Responsibility from Paul Tripp. Pray that the Lord would bring to mind the specific relationships you have right now where friends or family are in need. For each of those situations prayerfully consider how you will respond? This requires humility and wisdom, as you are not responsible for every person or every need. Who is God calling you to move toward? How will you carry weight with them and for them? And who or what do you need to prayerfully entrust to God.
Scripture warns us to not just be hearers of the Word but to be doers of it as well. All of life is repentance. What is a believable next step God is calling you to take in response to all you’ve learned? Below are some possible options:
- What unique gifts do you have that could be used to encourage another who is suffering?
- Like to cook? Take meals.
- Like to write? Send notes. A text message is fine, but don’t underestimate the power of a handwritten note.
- Like to pray? Ask specifically what to pray for. Pray. And then let them know.
- Like to organize? Set up a meal train, care calendar to coordinate childcare, rides to the doctor, etc.
- Like to rally people? Collect gift cards and gas cards for meals and travel.
- Like to work? Offer to do the laundry—it can be set out on a porch to be picked up and returned. Clean a house. Help with yard work.
- Like to play with children? Offer to babysit or help with carpool.
- Like to give? Make reservations at a nice hotel for a weekend away for your friend who is struggling.
- Skill sets that can be deployed for the benefit of others: organizing medical paperwork, making phone calls, helping organize finances, legal issues etc.
- Is there someone in your circle of relationships that you have felt that nudge to move towards but have been hesitant because of fear, insecurity, or ambivalence? Confess that to them and ask for forgiveness. Remember when someone is struggling it is hard for them to know what they need; instead, offer to do something specific.
- We comfort others with the comfort we have received. If you have navigated a difficult season with the death of a loved one, divorce, addiction, or marital struggles and have benefited from others who have rallied around you in your time of need, then you are the most equipped to walk this path with someone else. Consider entering into others’ loss and pain and suffering by serving with GriefShare, DivorceCare, re|engage, or re:generation. For more information about how to get involved in any of these ministries, email Jennifer Dill at [email protected].
- Consider serving as a member of the sexual assault response team at your campus—sitting with them while they make the initial call to the crisis hotline, have interviews with prosecutors, go to their first counseling appointment, and just provide a ministry of presence in a time that is extremely disorienting, scary, and isolating. Training will be provided. If you are interested in serving, please email LeeAnne Cavin at [email protected].
- There are many young boys and girls growing up without adequate role models and those to walk alongside them in fellowship and mentorship. Consider serving as a mentor to middle and high school girls through the Urban League of the Upstate. There are currently 42 boys and girls awaiting mentors. For more information on how to serve in this area, email Angie Anderson-Moton at [email protected].
- What unique gifts do you have that could be used to encourage another who is suffering?to ask for help. Who is walking through this season with you? If you are suffering in isolation, consider who you need to invite in.1
This resource is adapted from our Ezer Equipped monthly newsletter dedicated to equipping our women with content, from both within and outside of our church, to help us continue to grow as disciple and disciple-makers. To subscribe to the Ezer Equipped newsletter, click here.