We cannot validate someone else’s suffering.
I think we all accept this on a surface level, because we know we can’t heal our loved ones. We know we can’t fix the situation. We understand this because we’ve tried.
On a deeper level though, we often still believe that our presence is adding significance to their health struggles. If you think this isn’t true, let me ask you a question:
Whose suffering has the greatest impact, the chronic illness sufferer who collates an inspiring instagram feed or the aged parent who can no longer speak?
Do you believe that ‘seen’ suffering trumps ‘unseen’ suffering?
To do so is dangerous. Here’s why –
3 truths about your role in someone else’s suffering
1. We cannot actually carry their burdens
We can help our Loved Ones, we can aid them in day-to-day living, we can take care of all their physical needs – but in the end they alone must bear their illness.
They must go down into the valley of darkness in their own strength, not ours.
We can love them like Jesus, but we can’t be Jesus. As Sam tells Frodo in Tolkien’s The Return of the King:
“I can’t carry it for you.”
It is a lie to suggest that our Loved One’s burden is something we can “take” from them. Far better to acknowledge the truth and point them to Jesus.
2. Watching doesn’t make their sufferings special
Our presence does not sanctify their sufferings.
There’s a sort of unspoken belief at times that when people suffer they somehow do so for the people around them. As if the ‘purpose’ of their suffering is the edification of those around them.
John Green touches on this in The Fault in Our Stars, with Hazel and Gus’ sarcastic rejoinder:
“They are an Example to us all. Oh how we admire them!”
Yet individuals do not suffer ‘for the (unknown) greater good’ in this sense, and it is risky to think so.
Our presence does not make something horrific into something acceptable. If only that was all it took to redeem suffering!
Do not insult their suffering by suggesting it will be completely redeemed by the fact that it “helps” or “inspires” others.
3. Watching doesn’t make their suffering important
Onlookers are not needed to make suffering valid.
God alone makes suffering valid, and He does so in each and every case, because He uses every life for His glory.
Every tear has a part in His eternal plan.
If I were to suffer utterly alone, in the deepest depths of the earth, if not one living purpose heard my cries, there would still be a purpose to it. After all, what humans do not see, spiritual powers do. It is enough if angels weep and demons shudder (Ephesians 3:10).
Do not belittle the misery of those who suffer alone by suggesting that it is pointless.
For more on this see When God Weeps, by Joni Earekson Tada.
BUT: Our helplessness is a relief
In one sense, our role in our friend’s suffering is very minimal. By ourselves we can’t bear their burdens, redeem their suffering or play a part in its eternal value.
This is because we are not Saviours – instead we need a Saviour.
What a relief! It is not up to us to fix or redeem the lives of those suffering. When we fail, when we are not there as we should be, when our Loved One has to go through something alone, when we run away, when we give up, when we don’t know the answers – that is okay.
It’s not up to us.
The task of redeeming and fixing suffering is in the hands of One who is much more capable than we will ever be. While we Watch, He Does.
the companion to this post is:
//Do you find it comforting or distressing to realise that your role in Watching can be quite small? Are you satisfied to keep Watching in light of that? Why/Why not?
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