Companions in the suffering 

It was surreal. It made my head ache. And my heart too.

I was watching someone compare the sufferings of others, elevating one over the other. Legitimizing one while delegitimizing the other.

She held the scales and weighed out suffering, calling this one heavy and this one light.

But this is not the way of suffering. It is no badge, unless it be a badge of entry into the human race. For we all suffer. And it is an offense to us all to measure the height and depth of one and to call it real suffering, as if what the rest of us experience is a pseudo suffering, a small and piddly thing of no account.

No pastor or therapist who walks with people in their pain would ever compare the suffering of two people, standing them back to back with each other. Each person’s struggles are entered into individually. Each person’s circumstance is a unique blend of trials and blessings. We are nuanced and complex.

Far better than comparisons and even better than a pastoral entering into the sufferings of others is the welcoming embrace of co-sufferers.

I can’t give any details, but in my role as a hospital chaplain, I spent a few tough hours with a woman and her friends by the bedside of the woman’s husband. Two nights later, they were still at the hospital as I was caring for another family. Well, the three women called me over and mentioned the new family, saying, “We’ve seen them and have been praying for them. This waiting room is so much nicer than the one they’re in. We’d be glad to move and let them have this one.”

It was a beautiful embrace of one set of sufferers for another.

They didn’t compare sufferings. That never even crossed their minds. Instead, they allowed their own suffering to open their eyes to the suffering of others. Their pain softened them to the pain of others. The comfort they had received made them want to extend comfort to others.

They had become the fellowship of the broken, co-sufferers and co-healers. Their hearts were being repaired by turning them outward toward others instead of inward in self-pity.

This is the Jesus way.

When my sister died, I wasn’t interested in pretty plain crosses. I wanted a gory crucifix. I wanted to see Christ on the cross. I wanted to know that my Savior knows suffering from the inside out, that he doesn’t sit in lofty estate on a heavenly throne and wave a magical hand over our pains. I needed a wounded Lord who could weep with me, just as he did over his dead loved one. I wanted Jesus to suffer with me.

I love how the old King James Version translates Philippians 3:10 — That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.

The fellowship of his sufferings. I like that. I suffer with Jesus. Jesus suffers with me. And Jesus and I suffer with you.

Forget comparing. Let’s just live in the fellowship of his sufferings.

Unlike any animal, we humans have compassion. We are able to share our pain with others and we are able to have others share their pain with us. We are able to lighten one another’s loads by carrying each other’s burdens.

No social status. No racial advantage. No luck of birth. No thing at all can hedge us from suffering. It comes for us all and in ways that strike each of us to the heart. The question is: What will we do with our suffering? Will we use it to distance us from others, through hiding or comparing or self-pity? Or will we use it to draw us closer to others, as we learn compassion and embrace our broken neighbors in the companionship of the suffering?