Monday, June 13, 2016

Loving Sufferers Well

Author's Note: This post was written before the Orlando nightclub attack, and is mainly from my perspective as a Christian going through suffering.  However, I hope and pray that this might help the body of Christ care for those who have been deeply affected by this, and all, tragic sufferings. 

Community.  It's something we must have as humans.  We were created to build one another up and point one another to God.  To interact with one another, to help us see more of who God is, and help us to know His love.

Other people are not just helpful, they are essential to our lives.  We are dependent on one another, regardless of how independent we want to be.

This rings true as we experience so much love, encouragement, mercy, and relief from our house fire.  Neighbors, friends, and church family have housed us.  We received gifts from family and others to help us with immediate needs.  People have prayed for us, sent encouraging notes, and reminded us of God's love, care, and control in the midst of a hard season.

It is amazing how God uses people to showcase His love!

And sometimes, people can be a reminder of our broken world.  At times, people have not listened well to what is hard.  They have joked at my most raw moments.  They say things that have nothing to do with the emotions that I feel.

It would be tempting to do one of two things as a reader.  One would be to say to me, "Get over yourself."  Another would be to over-empathize and villainize these people.  But neither response is appropriate.  What's more helpful is to recognize the difficulty of loving the one who mourns.

We've all been there, right?  Someone goes through a tragedy, and we are often left at a loss as to what we should say, do, or feel.  Yet we are led to do something, because we were innately created to love one another.  As Christians, that's even more pronounced as we are compelled by God's love through the Gospel to love one another.  However, while the bible shows us everything we need to love, it's more complicated than a chapter in the New Testament about a ten-step process to perfect love for the sufferer. 

We are created uniquely by God, and one of the parts of our uniqueness is how we feel cared for, what we see as needs, and what helps. Two things that have cared for me most are gifts and understanding my struggles.  So when people ask me questions, let me verbally process, and share in my pain, I have felt extremely cared for.  And of course, when someone offers to buy my family and I food or supplies, it has been a very real evidence of God's grace to us.  But when people have spoken too quickly, or have listened but then misunderstood why I'm sad, it's tempting to get angry and lose trust.

But not everyone is like me!  So the application here isn't "don't speak, just listen," or, "just buy supplies."  On the contrary, I think we need to think more broadly before we can appropriately apply how to love the sufferer:

1.  Ask questions of what would help them:  Some people need to verbally process.  Some people need to think and be alone.  Some people want helpful perspectives shared with them.  Some people want you to cry with them, some just want you be near and be silent.  Whether it's your preferred method of helping or not, help in the way they ask you too/not to.

2.  Be patient:  A month in, a lot of my sadness, guilt, and other things have faded.  But just the other day the memories rushed back anew, and I was a mess.  And that's ok.  I processed it later and figured it out, but you and I, when we suffer, don't need to be put back together immediately.  God is making all things new, but on His timing.  Please be patient with those who are suffering.

3.  Speak Tentatively:  It's most likely unhelpful to command or rebuke a sufferer, but don't withhold the scriptures from us either.  "And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all." (I Thessalonians 5:14) We need encouragement, help, patience, AND truth.  We need Godly perspective.  We need the Scriptures to guide us.  And we don't want to be mastered by our suffering, but by Jesus Christ.   (Note: for non-believers who are suffering, as well as those who are just in very deep pain, keep listening.  Ask if it would be helpful for you to share.  If they say no, don't get frustrated, keep listening and ask again what you can do to help.

Quickly, if you are suffering, let me give a couple of quick thoughts on how to be gracious when people don't love you well.

1.  Remember how Jesus was misunderstood:  He was misunderstood on the cross, by the government, by the religious leaders, by his family, and by his disciples and best friends.  And He still died for their sake.  It's a not only a beautiful example, but He gives us the power to be gracious when people fail us.

2.  Get your eyes on others:  Don't let your suffering push you inward.  Instead, let it sober you to realize that while many don't know what you are going through, you don't know what others are going through either.

3.  Overlook what you can, speak up when necessary:  There are a lot of things I've let go because after a few minutes I realize it's not a big deal, and I don't remember it.  Hurts that I dwell on, however, I need to share with the person.  And it's for two reasons; for our own souls, and to help the person learn how to better care for people.

I hope these things are helpful as we seek to care for one another more effectively.  We are God's gifts to one another, and day by day, God will help us to be the community He created us to be.