“One must really have suffered oneself to help others.”
— MOTHER TERESA (1910–1997)
Stepping into someone’s moccasins is our duty,
When we’ve experienced enough life to have endured,
Life blows sufficient that ensure we’ve secured,
Enough of the compassion of Christ’s beauty.
Suffering helps us understand,
What life’s got in its hand,
So in it is a noble idea,
If in it we can stand,
It’s a safe basis with which to land,
A thing undermining much of our fear.
This is no manifesto against the person, who themselves, sees their life as devoid of suffering. They may be naturally compassionate. Mother Teresa is not saying that the one who has not suffered is incapable of helping another. What is being said is there is a purpose beyond the trial, extending past the pain, indwelling all our feelings, as we push forth on a mission far bigger than ourselves.
Whilst suffering is not a noble thing of itself, God ensures there is a purpose in it, by the fact that it matures our characters, in order that fear is undermined by the broadening of our perspective and we see the need to help others in their suffering.
God and Suffering
It is difficult for many people to put God and suffering in the same sentence. Many cannot see how God can allow suffering, whilst many others will only see a holy God apart from suffering.
But as we theologically reflect – seeing into what God might be saying – we can note, through Scripture, and through direct and indirect human experience, that suffering produces something worthwhile in the person who suffers well. It isn’t easy to suffer well, but it is possible if we focus on obeying the Lord.
In suffering well – by enduring something horrendous and obeying God in the process – we gain a certain perspective, and it is through such an enhanced appreciation for the weight of reality that we are blessed. We are more home to the truth and we can handle it.
Given that suffering comes indiscriminately into our lives we can see its God-anointed purpose; it refines us and matures our characters. We never enjoy this. How could we? It costs us so much. But perhaps the refining mark in suffering – if we can see a little beyond our pain, and into the flow of life itself – is what we may learn; about others, not just ourselves.
Suffering correlates with empathy – if we’ve suffered well, God has opened our hearts to see and respond to others’ suffering. By our stripes God uses us so others can be healed.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.