We’ve all been there: sitting across from a friend, someone in our comGroup, or a coworker, and you see it in their eyes. Something isn’t right. Then it finally comes through gritted teeth or tear-stained cheeks: it’s cancer. Or death. Or debilitating loneliness. A lay-off, a stubborn addiction, a wayward child, a family fracture, a 5150 call…whatever it is, it hurts. What do you do in those moments? How do you respond to their soul-crushing pain?
Our culture at large has two ways to respond to pain. One, we run, hard and fast from anything that makes us the least bit uncomfortable or doubt our own abilities. We soothe the aches of this world with sex, stuff, drugs, alcohol, food, relationships, Netflix binges, anything to distract from suffering. Or, we encourage each other to “own” our pain, to embrace it but only to let it define our identity. Pain becomes something used to serve an agenda, breeding victims the world must pay attention to and broken-hearts who refuse to let anyone in or help. “No pain, no gain!” we say as if pain was a tool to use as we climb over each other to achieve success. But before we get all up in the world’s face about their mishandling of pain and suffering, we need to take a hard look at ourselves.
The church also has two ways to respond to pain. One, we run, hard and fast from anyone that makes us uncomfortable. We soothe the aches of those who are in pain with platitudes like “it will all work out,” “at least you’re not (fill in the blank),” “you should really try (fill in the blank),” “God is clearly trying to teach you something,” and my personal favorite, “there’s always a silver lining. Look harder.” Anything to distract ourselves and the person in pain from the fact that there’s a wound and it hurts. Or, we “own” pain and attempt to fix it. We come with our five steps to a better life guides and our quiet-time quick fixes and slap band aids all over the people who are hurting. We ensure those in suffering that if they just follow this or that plan, it will get better here and now; no more waiting on the Lord!
I know what you’re thinking. “But I’m sure they have good intentions!” Do we though? When I’m hurrying through a conversation with someone who is struggling with doubt or who just lost someone they loved, am I doing that because I have these intentions of gold? No. I’m protecting myself, I’m loving myself in those moments – not them.
I propose a different way of interacting with those in pain, an option (well, more of a command) put forward by someone with much more experience with suffering than I have. It’s this: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)
Simple. To the point. Weep with those who weep. But…why?
What makes running from pain, minimizing someone’s suffering, or attempting quick fixes so bad? Because it misses the whole point; it misses Jesus.
The more we try to minimize pain, the more we refuse to say things are really that bad, the less we see our need for Jesus. The less we realize that this world is broken, the less we think of heaven as a good thing; it becomes a nuisance, a hindrance to having what we want. Our affections are stirred for success in this world and completely miss the One we were made to be known by and to know, to be loved by and to love.
We keep trying to make ourselves comfortable in pain, comfortable in suffering, comfortable in terrorism and fear. We want to slap verses on everything that will make it all seem “okay” but…it’s not okay! I know you feel it, I feel it too. I feel it when I pick up my phone to check social media and I’m met with another tragedy, I feel it in the ache of a broken relationship, I feel it in memories of loved ones who have past away, I feel it in the pains of a body that just doesn’t want to be healthy. This world is broken and brokenness breeds pain.
So what does weeping with those who weep look like? It looks like not seeking our comfort when someone is hurting, it looks like entering into their pain and getting on our knees with them. It means dying to our agendas, our theological answers, our shoulds and could-haves, and our indignation. It means looking at the person in front of us and loving them as Jesus loves us. Instead of merely pointing to earthly remedies, we become the arms and ears of Jesus as we listen and embrace each other in our most vulnerable grief. Instead of offering advice or sharing our own experiences, we stop, pray, and confess our utter dependency on Jesus. We remind each other of the hope of Heaven by being present in those moments, really present. There truly will be a day when Jesus wipes away every tear from our eyes and makes all things new and until that day we have the opportunity to experience the hope of heaven together, with tissues and open arms. That wildly beautiful hope of our future with Jesus is so much bigger than our interactions but God chooses to minister to our hearts in profound ways through our presence with each other.
Pain will come – to our comGroups, to our families, and it will hit our hearts too. When the oceans of pain come rushing in, when violence terrorizes our eyes, when enough is enough and nothing soothes the ache, look up and long for home. Weep with those who are weeping, be arms of comfort, and even if you find yourself hurting and feeling alone, Infinite Love meets you in that space of pain with the hope of a future without tears. There will be no rejection, no grief, no sorrow, no destruction, no violence, no terrorism, no fear, no anguish, no isolation, nothing. Gone. Forever. Eternity in his presence, eternity in perfect relationship with Jesus, an eternity of joy. Isn’t that better than gritting our teeth and muscling through? Better than running? Better than hiding? Better than being defined by it? Isn’t Jesus better? I think so.