Birdie Shawker, Communications Coordinator
I’ve been thinking about what happens on the road ahead when we suffer. Who hasn’t at least been involved in a painful accident, or at least a fender-bender in their lives? Or lost their way as they traveled to their destination?
Who hasn’t asked when they suffer, “Where is God in this situation?”
What’s a caring person, or spiritual community like us, to do in supporting those who suffer? We all suffer at some point in our lives. How do we help? Above and beyond prayer, and/or casseroles, how do we compassionately suffer together in community?
I have found it helpful to cultivate my own personal theology of pain and suffering. That theology evolves and changes over time. I do my best not to inflict it on anyone but myself, but you might be curious, so I’ll say only this…. Right now, I consider every episode of my suffering to have an element of communication to it.
American theologian Fredrick Schmidt has a few suggestions for communities in supporting their members that are in a state of suffering. He suggests embracing the suffering of others cultivates a caring community. Communities can do so in in several ways:
- He suggests resisting the temptation to say we “know” what the person is going through, and instead simply listen to what the person has to say.
- He also suggests being candid about what is going on, to resist easy answers or explaining away the agony of those who suffer. In this way, we support each other in cultivating a deeper and truly authentic understanding of the Divine.
- Schmidt also suggest we not rush anyone to closure about their suffering and avoid measuring anyone’s spiritual maturity or worth by their response to suffering.
- And finally, he recommends being Present with the person who is suffering. It is not easy at times, because people may say things we don’t agree with. We may want to “correct” them. We may be triggered into anxious feelings ourselves by what they say. Being a calm, loving presence in the midst of suffering is one of the finest ways we can answer the question “Where is God in this situation?” Without words, our actions state, “Right here.”
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