Have you ever had a time where from the outside you might have looked entirely out of your element but you felt like you were right where you were supposed to be? I once had the opportunity to speak to a group of retirees about the importance of suffering with others. At the age of 29, I was sharing a message with a group of adults predominantly in their 70s, 80s and a few in their 90s. Some of them had been married longer than I had been alive x 2! So process that for a second. What does someone in their late 20s have to share with a room full of senior citizens, full of life experiences, about how to suffer? Everything.
Let me give you the same quick recap I gave them of my ‘credentials’:
At 26, I had to walk through the experience of losing my father suddenly. He died of a heart attack at the age of 60. I will never forget receiving that phone call, and driving home just sobbing but praying out to God. I prayed, “Lord, guide me. I don’t know why but allow me to lead my home in the coming days in a God-honoring way.” I stood a week later eulogizing my dad. This was the first time in my life that I honestly experienced what it meant to hurt, to feel pain and to suffer.
In 2013, my wife and I found out we were expecting twin daughters. At 17 weeks we found out our daughters appeared to have what is called Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome. Essentially, one child is receiving more nutrients than the other and this has a potential doubly negative effect on one getting too little and one getting too much. By 18 weeks, it was evident they had TTTS and we were scheduled with 1 of only 4 surgeons in the country that performed the procedure to potentially fix this syndrome, which itself was extremely dangerous and risky. By 19 weeks, we found out that we had lost our daughters. We didn’t even make it to the procedure. There was nothing we could do.
I spent the next 6 months (and beyond) walking alongside of my wife as we struggled through this to understand why and go on after a tragic loss. I continually prayed to God for understanding and for healing. I prayed the same prayer after my dad died to honor God through this and to guide us. Even when I didn’t want to pray that prayer. I walked alongside my wife, held her, cried with her. My goal was and continued to be to honor and love her as a Godly husband should.
In 2 short years, I walked through a great deal of suffering, and I have been able to reflect on what it means to suffer and how we are meant to suffer.
We live in a very individualistic society today, and we often pride ourselves on ‘going it alone.’ And unfortunately, this mentality has seeped into how we walk in times of suffering. We often feel like we can’t burden others with our pain or on the other side of the coin want to either appear strong or show others that we are fine by ourselves. But this isn’t true most of the time, and this isn’t healthy. Because I believe we are meant to suffer and walk in times of pain surrounded by others and in community.
From what I’ve witnessed in others and in myself, we tend to quantify and compare suffering and loss. Oftentimes we don’t want to be a burden on others, and I think this is wrong. Pain is pain. Suffering is suffering. I don’t care if it is an illness, the loss of a parent or child, the loss of a job, or whatever it might be, all pain and suffering matters and is significant. So don’t let you or anyone else quantity it as something less than it is: it is pain, it is suffering. It’s real, it hurts. And you need people around you. We need to go through suffering with other people instead of in isolation. We were created for relationships, we were created to be with other people, and I believe that even in our most painful, hurt-filled and vulnerable moments we need to be surrounded and supported by others.
We must lean into others and allow them the opportunity to serve us and walk alongside of us. I couldn’t imagine going through those two years without my wife and without the small group from our church. Having people we could call when we just needed a night to play board games to simply take our minds off things or having people bring us meals for an entire month so we could just come home after work and be together was incredible. People did this for us because they loved and cared about us, and wanted to show God’s love to us.
So let me end with this: Be the one who leans into those who are suffering and serves them. Don’t wait for people to come to you, go to people as this will make all the difference. Show people you care. In an increasingly disconnected world outside of social media, pour into people when they need it the most. Trust me, they’ll need it and remember it, even if they don’t realize it at that moment.