This post is part of an ongoing series on ministering to people in pain. Click here to see all the posts in this series.
I can sense the irony as I type this post. I’ve just talked about the value in an Easter season of celebration, joy, and delight, and now here I am talking about pain again.
I think of a couple we know who spent Easter Sunday in a hospital room. Their young daughter was diagnosed with cancer last week. It was something unexpected and unforeseen, and they were immediately catapulted into the land of doctor consultations and treatments. They face the challenge of explaining the effects of chemotherapy to a girl who only weeks before lost her first tooth. They face the heartache of watching their child sick, their child in pain, their child struggling to come to grips with something her young mind can’t even reason through yet. This was their Easter reality. This is the world we live in.
It is precisely these situations of heartbreak that make the hope of the resurrection most profound. It is here that the joy of the resurrection proves to be an anchor secure enough to keep us tethered in life’s storms.
I am convinced that without the resurrection, we have no real hope to offer each other in suffering. This is why I have no qualms over back-to-back posts about resurrection life and comforting each other in pain. In the resurrection, we find hope beyond the suffering of this life. We find a picture of how God redeems—and uses—the worst of suffering. In the resurrection, we see Christ the reigning, sovereign King, not the bleeding victim.
We cannot escape pain in this world. To ignore it would be naive or disingenuous, putting our fingers in our ears so we can’t hear each other screaming. We look around and see broken relationships, broken bodies, broken spirits, broken dreams. For many of us, our time in this world is marked more by the Cross—the suffering, the pain, the darkness, the silence. But the resurrection tells us these are not the end. The resurrection gives us a reason to rejoice, even when our hearts are still breaking.
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We’ve heard the church called a hospital. It’s a “hospital for sinners," a community of people who will spend their lifetime healing and rehabilitating. I believe it should also be a place with doors wide open to those in pain. The suffering should be able to hobble into the community of Christians and find comfort and grace in their time of need. We should be attuned to pain because our Savior himself suffered. We are equipped to offer hope and encouragement because we have seen rehearsed from the beginning of time how our God takes pain and makes it into something glorious.
But sadly, this isn’t always the case. You don’t have to look far to hear their stories—those who went to the church for help and left more wounded than when they arrived. Many, myself included, have been hurt instead of comforted by fellow Christians in seasons of pain. Sometimes it feels as though the church gets the majority of its cues from Job’s friends.
I’ve been guilty of this as well. It’s our natural inclination to be uncomfortable with pain. We see pain and say “It could be worse.” We see doubts and offer answers. Or we just turn and walk away. I find being a good comforter requires a great measure of self-control and bravery. It means adopting the posture of listening and silence, instead of an endless supply of “right” answers. It means bearing witness to anger and tears, instead of telling (explicitly or implicitly) someone what they should feel. It means opening my heart wide to empathy, holding myself open to truly see someone’s pain, instead of squirming in my seat, instead of dismissing their heartache, instead of offering a quick fix.
It’s our natural inclination to be uncomfortable with pain, but I’m convinced it’s a skill that can be developed. That is why I’m going to spend the next few weeks helping us all reflect on what it looks like to minister to each other in times of suffering. Keep an eye out for these resource posts on Wednesdays.
Next week—a primer in what not to do.