(Inspired by Dr. John Piper’s post, “Don’t Waste Your Cancer”)
I’ve had a string of bad news come down the pipe lately, and it’s had me thinking: What are we supposed to do when other people in our lives are hurting? How do we, as followers of Christ, keep from wasting their suffering? How can I learn from it? This is what God has been teaching me about it. I’m not great at dealing with other people’s problems, but He’s been pushing my heart towards obedience, and this is what has come out:
We waste other people’s suffering when we freak out about it.
I don’t know about you, but I’m a worrier by nature, and my mind automatically jumps to the worst case scenario whenever I hear about someone else’s bad news. And then I start getting fearful for that person, and instead of truly loving them I freak out, then shut down so as not to get overwhelmed. This is ultimately a self-centered reaction; it’s creating excuses for me not to get in the trenches with them. And it fails on another front, too, but that’s for the next point:
We waste other people’s suffering when we forget that it’s all in the sovereignty and grace of God.
God doesn’t abandon our friends when they’re going through a hard time, and He is not freaking out about this. He grieves with us, absolutely, and He walks with us, but He knows what’s going down, and He knows that He is going to accomplish His purposes with whatever we’re going through. We can say, hey, He works all things for good, but when you’re going through crap, we need to trust and know that.
We waste other people’s suffering when we don’t learn from it.
What can we learn from it? How to persevere. How to practically love them. How to trust God in the middle of utter chaos. How to pray deeper. That it can happen to us, because we all deserve it, and worse. That we are fragile people, that the world is broken. That different people react to suffering differently.
We waste other people’s suffering when we don’t love them in a practical way.
Sometimes that looks like showing up at a funeral, even if funerals make us uncomfortable. Sometimes that looks like giving people space, or taking them out to dinner, or making them cookies, or writing them cards, or calling them on the phone, or spreading the news about their loss or illness or struggle to other people so they can pray. Sometimes that looks like hugs, or tears, or mix tapes. Whatever. You know what the people you know need.
We waste other people’s suffering when we try to fix it.
There are just some problems we can’t solve. We do what we can (see the above point), but we shouldn’t try to fix people’s reactions to things if they’re not reacting in the way we think they should. (Sinful reactions being the exception, of course, but even then, in love, not out of the need to be right or out of self-righteousness, like Job’s friends.)
We waste other people’s suffering when we don’t take them to Jesus.
Not just in prayer, but in our words and in our actions. That’s the best thing we can do for anyone: Love them as the Church, and to remind them of the gospel, and that their suffering is one day going to be resolved and reversed, because of the cross and the resurrection of Jesus. When we mourn with those who mourn, we follow the example of Jesus, who came and lived with us. “Surely He bore our griefs, and carried our sorrows.”
* * *
I still really suck at all of this, but God has been good about bringing that to my attention, and bringing me out of myself towards love and obedience. My prayer is that He would continue to do that in me, so I would love other people because He loves them, and be able to bear their burdens with them, both now and in the future. I’ve been really blessed to have had people in my life who have done these things for me and my family, so now it’s time to pass it on.