In our compassion, we don’t like to see people suffer. And so our instincts are aimed at preventing and alleviating suffering. No doubt that is a good impulse. But if we really want to reach out to others who are suffering, we should be careful not to be like Job’ s friends, not to do our “helping” with the presumption that we can fix things, get rid of them or make them “better.”
Eugene Peterson in the preface to the book of Job from The Message
I have been meditating on the book of Job recently and have thought these words would be part of the study guide if I ever taught Urban Ministry 101. I dare say, they would be required reading for Ministry 101. I have spent decades in works of listening, love and service. I have watched friends and associates leave the faith or move on to greener pastures. I do know there are times when I feel I cannot bear one more exposure to the way evil can prosper, injustice can rear its ugly head or suffering can befall those who have suffered too much already.
In order to live and use the gifts God has given me, I have had to learn to let go of fix-it tendencies and my own need for making things better. When you get up close and personal to the brokenness of this world and find out that life isn’t fair, you learn that there is not a satisfactory answer to the whys of suffering. I have a personality that feels things deeply and experiences other people’s pain just like others do the weather. In order to survive, I have had to learn to be present to other people’s pain, be witness to their suffering, companion them so that they are not alone in the valley, all the while trusting and giving over the pain and suffering into the love and mystery of God, rather than taking it into myself or trying to make it go away. It is not a practice that is ever accomplished perfectly, so I appreciate your prayers as I live this out in my daily life.
I pray all the time for God’s guidance and insight as I listen and companion others and God is faithful. Recently I bore witness to memories of a childhood, horrifying in its abuse and wretchedness, where trauma and stress linger as a result. God had prepared me for the time and was present as, together, we were able to see that even in the most awful places, when evil was tall and ugly, God was not absent. It was a tremendous gift of the Holy Spirit as my friend shared her sufferings and I trust that God continues the process of healing and redemption from all that evil. Please pray that God would continue to be mightily at work bringing freedom and rest into this traumatized heart and life.
I close with a few more wise words from Eugene Peterson: So, instead of continuing to focus on preventing suffering—which we simply won’t be very successful at anyway—perhaps we should begin entering the suffering, participating insofar as we are able—entering the mystery and looking around for God. In other words, we need to quit feeling sorry for people who suffer and instead look up to them, learn from them, and—if they will let us—join them in protest and prayer. Pity can be nearsighted and condescending, shared suffering can be dignifying and life-changing. As we look at Job’s suffering and praying and worshiping, we see that he has already blazed a trail of courage and integrity for us to follow.
We appreciate your support and prayers as we continue to attend the school of suffering with our friends while we also bear witness to the God of love who is always there, even when we need the work of the Holy Spirit to know and trust that is true.