I think the reason pain and suffering can be so crippling is that it can isolate us. When we start to suffer, we believe the lie that we are the only one and everyone else is doing just fine. We believe the lie that we can’t share our pain because we don’t want to burden anyone. We hide things from people. We let the suffering consume us. When we suffer in isolation we do not experience the fullness of God.
We begin to question the character and existence of God. Why would he allow me to experience such pain? Does he even see me? Darkness closes in around us and we forget what it was like to be in the light.
We often want God to change our feelings and circumstances. While Jesus showed us that he does in fact remove dark circumstances like sickness, guilt, shame, sin, even death, our God is much bigger than a circumstance-changer.
What if instead of suffering in isolation, we invited everyone to shoulder the pain? I’m not just talking about prayer requests here and there, I’m talking about consistent and faithful prayer, shared tears, touches of understanding, rearranging of schedules to be together, taking the elevator instead of the stairs, cooking each other meals, meeting needs, sending texts and letters of encouragement, filling in each others’ gaps, sharing coffee, being inconvenienced, living life together, speaking Truth together.
Real love. Real community.
As we learn how we were created to live, we care less about our circumstances and feelings and more about our transformation into who God created us to be.
Suffering in community lets us experience the faithful and consistent love that God has for us. God uses his people to show us his love and when we invite people into our mess, we experience his intimate and up-close love.
If we don’t experience suffering, we don’t experience the depth of God’s love. We don’t experience the rich intricacies of community. When we stop letting our circumstance dictate our faith and start living in real community, we experience the richness of a relationship with God. Instead of God changing our circumstances, he changes our experience inside our circumstances. Suddenly, in the midst of suffering, we feel deeply loved. We experience God’s overwhelming grace like never before. We feel God’s comfort—so much greater than any worldly comfort. We understand our need for God. We experience real strength in the midst of deep weakness.
I shut out my community midway through my experience of battling this unknown illness. I shut them out because I hated the defeat of telling so many people that all my tests were still normal. I worried people would think I was faking it or being dramatic. And I was tired of uninformed (but so loving) friends trying to diagnose me. What I didn’t realize is that I was shutting out people from sharing the victory and hope that I have in Jesus. I may feel defeated by tests, but Jesus has victory in my life. I am not defined by an illness—known or unknown–and my hope lies in Christ alone. I don’t have to hope in tests or doctors because Christ promises that he will work all things for the good of his Kingdom and the good of me—even if I don’t get answers or I get diagnosed with a life-changing illness. My circumstances don’t change my identity and don’t change Christ’s victory over darkness. In fact, my circumstances helped me to understand and feel God in a way that I have never experienced.
When I decided to not only invite my small circle of community into my struggles, but all who would listen, I experienced an all-surrounding, cannot-fail kind of love. This love was not due to the people, but how the people were being used by God. Texts from old friends, people praying on their knees for me, friends connecting with God for the first time, people spending time with me, people listening to me as I processed. I felt strong. I felt like an unstoppable army was behind me.
“If God is for us, who could be against us?” Romans 8:31.
I’ve physically felt worse since inviting others to shoulder this burden with me, but I’ve never felt spiritually stronger. How can I feel the most physically and emotionally weak but spiritually strong? God has used people to show me that I’m not alone. God has used his people to reveal that we need each other, as the body of Christ, to accomplish what God has for us.
We tend to make faith a personal thing, but the Bible never invites us to keep faith to ourselves. First of all, faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). Faith is believing without knowing all of the answers or seeing all of the outcomes (Hebrews 11:1). And, there is only one faith (Ephesians 4:4-6).
This is important.
One faith. Not little bits of faith given to God’s people. One faith. One God. One Father.
If we are in the family of God, we are One. We are one body, but many parts with unique jobs to care for, build up, and work within the body.
If you break your leg, your entire body must function differently until that leg heals. Your body cannot ignore when another part is broken. Your body does what it needs to do to compensate and produce healing. The leg cannot heal without the rest of the body doing what is needed to take the weight and pressure from that broken leg.
We are all broken legs at points in our lives, but we often feel lost, angry, confused, distant and alone when we are broken legs because we see ourselves as broken legs without a body. We do what we can to cope and find healing, but a broken leg without a body—well it’s just a dead limb.
We are far from useless. Our ear cannot simply decide that the body doesn’t need it anymore and take off running. Parts of our bodies don’t get to decide they’re useless and peace out.
Wouldn’t that be a funny sight?
Similarly, we cannot have an entire body of feet. What would keep the blood flowing? How could we see? How could we eat? Digest food?
I’m no doctor or scientist, but isn’t it amazing how intricate our bodies are? Each part, big or small, has a very important function. Your hand never thinks about being a different part, it does what it was created to do.
So if we are a part of One faith and One body, why do we believe we are useless? Why do we try to be someone else?
You were created to be a foot, look like a foot, and do foot things. Wonderful! We need feet! You are a pulmonary artery? Great! It does not matter how small you are or how hidden away you are, you are vital to the life and flourishing of this body.
Do not look at the hand and wish you looked like the hand and could do what the hand does.
You were created to look like you look. You were created with gifts to be used. You have purpose. Your life is important to the functioning of the Body. If you start wishing you looked different or possessed different gifts, no one will do what you were created to do and the body would start to fail. Do not fail the body because of jealousy. Do not fail the body because you believe and live like you’re alone. Do not fail the body because you believe you are useless. Do not fail the body because you are different.
You are different?
If we were all the same we wouldn’t be a body.
And when you fail and when you suffer, we as the other parts of the body will help you heal. We will compensate. Your suffering will not go unnoticed. And if it does, we all suffer together and will heal together. When you are hurting, we will bind your wounds. When you can’t figure out how to work, we will do our part and show you how you fit in. We will show you how vital you are.
We weren’t created to be alone. We weren’t created to suffer in isolation.
We were created with a purpose. We were created with unique gifts. We were created to fit into part of the One faith, One body, to glorify One God the Father.
So, I will ask you to bear my burdens with me as I travel down this road of unknowns. And I want to shoulder your burdens as well. I will do my best not to try to be another part of the body that I was not designed to be, but instead to see how I was created to fit in as part of the Whole. I will try not to hide behind lies, but I may need your help reminding me of who I am. I don’t know how long this journey of healing will be, but I know the body can handle it. It’s ok if you’re broken too, the body can handle a lot of brokenness at once because it is ruled by a perfect savior.
Open your eyes. You’ll see parts of the body who are hurting. Start with a cup of coffee and conversation, then let love and healing grow from there.