So the question for us is: How does being Christian help us with our suffering?
Well, here are six truths about suffering that should prove comforting to any Christian in pain:
God didn’t cause our suffering. God never, ever wants us to suffer. He hates it when we hurt. We hurt because pain is part of the human legacy, period. God could, of course, instantly stop all human suffering, but doing so would involve interfering with our free will, which he loves us too much to do. He allows us to suffer, but that we do is agonizing to him.
Christ, who loves us, knows our suffering. Christ proved his love for us on the cross. And on the cross he also proved to us that he knows the depth of earthy, human suffering. When we call upon Christ to comfort us, we can do so confident that He who heals us understands the full measure of human pain.
Christ wants to love and comfort us. Christ’s purpose is to comfort and heal us. He loves us -- and he proved he loves us. He is our friend, our bringer of peace, our soul’s physician. God cares; he is the opposite of indifferent to our suffering.
Through suffering we can grow in our identification with Christ. As Christians, we want nothing more than to as fully as possible identify and commune with Christ. Christ purposefully suffered for us on the cross. Our suffering provides us with a means of more fully appreciating the depth and reality of that sacrifice.
Suffering clears a way for God. Suffering has a way of clearing our minds of superficialities, of focusing our attention on the core essentialities of life. When we’re suffering, 'Channel God' tends to come in a lot clearer than when we’re not.
God sees our suffering in the context of eternity. A big part of our suffering is the fear that we won’t get better. But God already knows just how fantastically better we’re going to get. We see ourselves as earthly creatures; God sees us, already, as the angels we will become.
If you’re suffering, here are four things your can do to help yourself heal:
Pray. Ask for God’s peace. Don’t be shy about asking for it; don’t be hesitant about asking for it; don’t in any way qualify your desire for it. God is there for the suffering. And He can bring to you what you cannot deliver to yourself; God, and only God, can make 2 + 2 = 5. When suffering, you need something extra, something beyond yourself, something unfathomable: You need a miraculous calming of your waters. Calming stormy waters is what God does. Ask, and you shall receive.
Share your troubles. Suffering tends to make us crawl into ourselves, to isolate with our anguish. Resist that counterproductive impulse, which only serves to coddle and thus empower pain. Instead, reach out to others when you are hurting. Share your troubles with your spouse, your friends, your family. With them be honest and open; free yourself to be as vulnerable as you feel. Receive their input, their sympathy, their care. Receive their love. Allow God’s greatest power to come to you through God’s greatest creation: People.
Seek the support of others afflicted as you are. The value of being in a support group with others who share your specific affliction cannot be overstated. There’s nothing like communicating with others who know exactly what you’re going through to relieve the psychological stress that is often the worst part of suffering. Look for a local support group to join. Start one if you have to; there are sure to be others in your area going through whatever you are. Join an online community. Do anything to begin sharing your story with others who are already living so much of it.
Become informed. If idle hands are the devil’s playground, ignorance is his factory. Fear and anxiety naturally thrive in the vacuum of unawareness. Learn what there is to know about whatever’s grieving you. When you actually know about something, it is never as bad as you think it might be when you’re only guessing about it. Knowledge really is power. Get all of it you can.
A former magazine writer and editor, John Shore’s life as a Christian writer began the moment when, at 38 years old, he was very suddenly (and while in a supply closet at his job, of all places) walloped by the benevolent hand of God. He is the author of I'm OK--You're Not: The Message We're Sending Nonbelievers and Why We Should Stop (NavPress), Penguins, Pain and the Whole Shebang: Why I Do The Things I Do, by God (as told to John Shore) (Seabury Books), and is co-author of Comma Sense: A Fun-damental Guide to Punctuation (St. Martin's Press). He is currently co-authoring a book with Stephen Arterburn.