In the face of suffering…

I am ashamed to admit that for the past few years I have avoided acknowledging the suffering in the world, I have been afraid of the overwhelming emotions that come with facing the suffering of others and feeling helpless to do anything. It has been a fear that caused me to turn off the radio, change the channel when the news came on, or even avoid conversations with people about current events. For me the suffering of others and my lack of ability to help has the potential to literally paralyze me with grief and overwhelming emotions. Maybe you can relate? In our culture whether by constant immersion and desensitization or the ability to fill our time with more pleasurable pursuits, many of us don’t give much thought to the presence of deep suffering. Because we don’t know how to help, how to deal with our emotions, it becomes easier to ignore, less painful. And so we become a fortress with a giant door marked “DO NOT ENTER“; us against the big bad world, don’t let them in. We become focused on our own personal dramas, so much so that the things that we should be bringing to The Lord and laying down, walking away from, trusting Him with, become all consuming opportunities for worry and selfishness.
But, the last few months God has been wrenching my door to this scary world wide open. Not just opening it, tearing it off it’s hinges and throwing it into the fire. It wasn’t even something I noticed He was doing until it was done, and although my heart will never be the same I am so thankful for that. It started when sweet friends of ours who are missionaries in South Sudan came home on furlough early because war broke out. I could sense their heartbreak as the people they so dearly loved and felt called to minister to were in danger for their very lives. It was at that time I started actually seeking out news about the suffering in South Sudan, actively praying and walking through the heart wrenching struggle of a nation in turmoil. Then another missionary friend’s son was diagnosed with cancer. God laid them heavily on my heart when they first started sharing about everything they were walking through. There were many days that I felt the paralyzing sorrow of their suffering so much so that I couldn’t even eat, all I could do was pray and ask God to intercede on their behalf. Then more news stories caught my attention: Ebola raging through West Africa, killing hundreds, ISIS slaughtering thousands of Christian believers in Iraq and Syria, so many heartbreaking things that I, we, are literally powerless to change.

Cancer, war, disease, human depravity. These are real things and when we can no longer ignore them and their very real presence in our world, we must ask ourselves: What do we do now that the blinders are off, now that there is no veil between the pain that is out there and the sorrow that crushes our hearts? How do we cope when prayer doesn’t seem like enough and even if we had the loudest voice or millions of dollars we still couldn’t stop this heartbreak? Why, why face this suffering, why bear it up? Doesn’t all the pain of others just flow all over everything? How can we leave our heart open to endure suffering and yet still have God’s unconditional love flow out? How can we find the joy of God in this!?
Or, is that maybe the answer? That the suffering, the love, the joy are all mingled into one, beautiful, messy, bittersweet True Love. When we open our heart to the suffering of others, be it our friend next door, the cousin we barely ever talk to, or the strangers half a world away we are opening our hearts to receive their burdens and help carry those sorrows to the feet of the Healer, the Matchless One. We become the conduit, the channel between the suffering and the pouring out of the Father’s unconditional love that He has so generously lavished upon us. We have the opportunity to know and allow others to know joy unspeakable, that is deeper, and different than anything we have ever known. This doesn’t mean that there will be no more suffering, but what it does mean is that we no longer have to bear it up alone. And maybe, just maybe we will be able to take down the imposing “DO NOT ENTER” sign and not only carry the heavy burdens of others’ suffering before the Lord but also learn to lay down our own to Him in pursuit of something so much better. True Love. Let us aim to lead lives that are less self-focused, less protective of our own hearts and more focused on the heart of God. Seeking all that it means to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15)

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