Struggles are tough. Sometimes someone we love get sick or dies. We might lose a job or experience a number of life’s disappointments. We can be certain that pain, suffering, disappointment, divorce, accidents, and health issues will touch us at some point in this life. In a sense, to live is to suffer, perhaps not always, but often suffering finds its way into our lives.
Different religions do different things with suffering. Buddhism professes that suffering isn’t real. They teach suffering is an illusion we experience because of an inordinate attachment to our self. Through meditation and contemplation one can escape from the trap of suffering and transcend the cares of this life. While I know Buddhism is a compassionate religion I often wonder what love looks like if one has no “self” to give to the “other” in the transcendent act of selflessness love requires. There must be more to suffering than simply writing it off as an illusion. In fact, for those who suffer (and we all will at some time) it’s a very real experience. Our emotions have a real impact on our bodies. We experience emotional suffering physically because our being is holistic; one consisting of body, mind, emotion, relationships, and spirit. An experience in one part of our being impacts all the others. This observation brings me to the main point of this short post. How can we help someone we know who is suffering? Over many years as a therapist and working in pastoral ministry I’ve found the answer tends to be the most difficult yet simplest thing we can do.
The best thing we can do for one another when suffering is send the clear message, “You’re not alone.” Those words resonate with the human heart and speak volumes in those situations where nothing else is appropriate. We believe we need to address the head of our suffering friends by helping them make meaning out of their suffering but the truth is, when we’re suffering it’s usually the heart that needs comforting first not the mind. The difficulty with comforting the heart is the heart doesn’t speak the language of reason, it only understands the non-verbal experience of “presence.”
I have had the honor of sitting with men and women on their death bed, in their hospital rooms, or in a church pew who are experiencing a great deal of suffering. While with them I didn’t reason through their painful situation trying to provide deep theological and psychological reasons for their pain. I merely sat with them, cried with them, listen to them tell their story and let them know, “I hear you, your experience matters to me, and you are not alone.”
Never fall into the trap of believing you can give someone meaning in regards to their suffering. They need to come to that place on their own. Suffering is not an illusion, rather it’s a moment of redemption in which the human person comes to terms with the fallen and broken world in which we live recognizing “Things are not as they were meant to be.” Be present with others and allow for that relationship to be a healing moment in which God makes himself know where “Two or three are gathered.” The transcendent nature of relationships is a healing bond all on its own. Be present to one another’s suffering and allow the Holy Spirit to do the healing.