Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. — 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
One ordinary day my wife Katherine and I were eating lunch as our baby slept in the next room. By the end of that ordinary day, I would be sitting in a hospital waiting room surrounded by friends and family, praying Katherine would survive emergency brain surgery.
Katherine and I grew up in the Bible Belt and rarely spent a Sunday morning outside of a church pew, but I’m not sure I had truly experienced the fullness of what the community of Christ could be until I sat in that waiting room.
It’s not when everything is perfect that we experience our purest form of connection to God and to others. Opportunity for true connection happens when reality splinters in a hospital waiting room, when your twenty-six year-old wife has a stroke without warning, when life balances on the edge of a surgeon’s scalpel. In that space of recognizing our own helplessness, we can either find ourselves in despair or find ourselves released into something bigger than ourselves — the safety net of each other. When we cried out to God, He answered. He gave us Himself by giving us other people. When our lives fracture, God is making space for His people to fill in the gaps.
Suffering — on an individual level and at a global scale — unveils a profound opportunity for us, the Church, to make the invisible God visible to one another. When we choose to reframe suffering as a universalizing means of connection rather than a point of isolation, everything changes.
Our hurts may be personal, but our healing can be communal.
The individual no longer bears the burden of mustering up hope for herself because we get to tell each other, “We’ll hope for you until you can hope for yourself again.”
That compassionate, incarnational, intercessory ministry was the beginning of hope for me on the day that everything fell apart. Knowing I was not walking alone through such hell empowered me to keep walking alongside Katherine. Because my community showed up for me, I could show up for Katherine. Because my community hoped for me, I could hope for Katherine as she clawed her way back from the brink of death into a whole new post-stroke reality.
Presence is the key. No need to overcomplicate it. I don’t remember many of the words spoken to me by my friends in those days following Katherine’s stroke, but I remember that they showed up. They sat and waited and brought food and cried and prayed and strolled my baby around the halls. They offered me what we can all offer each other: the ministry of their presence and, most poignantly, the ministry of their tears. They grieved when I grieved. And, even in the thickest parts of the suffering, sometimes they even laughed when I laughed. Doesn’t that take the pressure off? We’re not responsible for crafting the perfect condolence or offering the life-changing nugget of wisdom. We’ve just got to show up.
Even the kindest among us may want to look away in the face of another’s pain. Acknowledging someone else’s pain is a sobering reminder of the pain inevitably headed your way. Most humans would rather offer a quick fix to suffering and push toward a redemptive resolution rather than sitting in the grief at what has been lost. With this understandably flippant engagement of pain, we can further wound already wounded hearts. Katherine and I have been on the receiving end of some incredibly timely and encouraging words, but we’ve also been offered some shockingly hurtful and poorly-timed words. As a general rule, it seems less words are the best words, particularly during seasons of acute pain.
How many out-of-context Bible verses have been slapped on us in the midst of our tragedy? We’d be more upset about it if we weren’t also guilty of doing the same thing to other people, too! Without a doubt, we all need to be reminded of the truest things about God and His goodness and His purposes and plans, but timing is everything.
Sitting with the weight of someone’s loss, mourning it with them, offering our own emotions, and fulfilling their basic needs reflects a Gospel reality more clearly than any well-meaning recitation of a Bible verse could. Showing up reinforces the deep truth that we are not alone in any of our pain because Jesus joined us in our deepest, most universal pain: separation from our Creator.
As the life and ministry of Christ demonstrates time and again, Jesus encountered hurting people and had compassion for them. He saw them. He sat with them. He acknowledged their pain. He helped and healed them. Instead of being offended by their humanity, He joined them in it. And in our own way, we have the privilege and responsibility of embodying that kind of compassion to each other. In fact, the word compassion is translated “to suffer with.” Compassion isn’t warm, fuzzy feelings; compassion is making the choice to suffer. Suffering is what’s required when we kneel under the weight of the world together, intentionally entering into a mess that’s not your own, lightening the load for another and, in so doing, lightening the load for ourselves.
Compassion has the magic effect of taking our eyes off of our own hurts long enough to truly see another person in all their fears and humanity and hopes. For those of us who have been on the receiving end of this ministry of presence, we are empowered to enter into a holy process that Katherine and I like to call “hoping it forward.” As Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians, we get to take the comfort we’ve received from God and give it to others in need. When we’ve received comfort, we might be tempted to hoard it for ourselves. We’ve been through so much already. We deserve to be comfortable!
But Paul’s invitation to give to others what we’ve been given — to “hope it forward” — doesn’t leave us empty. God never calls us to give from a void, but rather from the abundance He’s already given us. And when we open our hands and offer up something precious, it leaves space for us to be refilled to overflowing.
Written for Devotionals Daily by Jay Wolf, co-author with Katherine Wolf of Suffer Strong.
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Have you ever cried out to God and received His answer and Himself through other people’s compassion and caring and help? Or is your life fractured right now? Lean into God and lean into His people. He will fill the gaps for you and remind you of His deep love! Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily