You’re Not Suffering Unless I Say So

wagging_finger_cartoonOf course, many of us wouldn’t think to tell people this. We might actually consider uttering these words to another person rude and presumptuous. And yet, I find that this sentiment runs rampant in Christian circles. How? When we attempt to validate another person’s experience according to how we see it or what we think is a valid reason for suffering.

Just watch what happens when you encounter a person who equates suffering with something you don’t understand. We’ll minimize it and then do the comparison game. You know, that’s where we highlight the real sufferers. We’ll say things like, “well at least you’re not in situation X”. Or “I can’t believe that person is complaining about Z or Y”. What might have been more direct is to say “I don’t see how you think that is suffering.” Or we’ll invalidate their experience somehow through some trite cliche.

Or we’ll measure according to these pre-determined reasons. We’ll allow suffering for certain things, like death, but not for other things. We make the the determination what is valid or not.

Why is it incumbent on us to determine how another should feel about something? Where do we get the right to validate another’s experience? Because that’s precisely what we do when measure their suffering according to our own meter.

I don’t know why we do this. Perhaps it is pride, a lack of compassion or just disconnection from our own humanity. Actually, I think a lack of empathy might be at the core. Empathy recognizes that you may not be able to relate to another’s pain but have the ability to put yourselves in the other’s shoes. Empathy puts aside our own perspective according to our own experiences and recognizes that if someone hurts or feels shame, there is a reason for it.

Yes, their expression might seem trivial.  But we need to be careful about judging superficially. Often that moan or reaction expressed at the surface is just a symptom of something much deeper. Unless you really know the person, you don’t really know why they have the triggers they do, or what is really at the heart of their shame, grief or pain. You are not them. You haven’t walked in their shoes, with their personality and experiences. Even with common experiences, everyone doesn’t have the same reaction or threshold of tolerance.

The fact is that suffering is promised in this life. Even Jesus said it, “in this world you will have trouble”. The trouble comes from a multiplicity of avenues, not just the ones we’ve determined with our own myopic understanding. Think about the definition of suffering

  • To experience something unpleasant (such as defeat, loss or damage)
  • To endure death, pain or distress
  • To sustain loss or damage
  • To be subject to a handicap or disability

The reality of living in a broken world ought to convince us that all of this is valid. In our humanity, we experience these affects because things are not as they should be. There is none more valid or invalid than the other, especially when disturbances break the soul. Who are we to say what another should experience? That doesn’t mean that we should encourage people to complain or wallow in their hurt, just recognize that when they do it’s because something is not right. Instead of dismissal, encouragement of a greater perspective is more helpful.

If anything, the expressions of pain or grief should remind us who are united to Christ that he is our hope, and the fact that there will be a day when he sets everything right and wipe every tear from our eyes. Until then, creation groans and we are apt to groan with it when encountering stuff that is not quite right.

Let us hold fast the confession of our faith without wavering for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23-25)

One thought on “You’re Not Suffering Unless I Say So

  1. eajohnston July 17, 2014 / 4:03 am

    Well said. We should groan with those who groan. We should realize we can’t fix it, but we can listen. Duct tape over our mouths might be helpful, too.

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