About 30 followers of Jesus gathered together last weekend. We went to a beautiful place (Banff, Alberta) to discuss a difficult topic, “Walking with God and Others through Pain and Suffering.”
We quickly realized that most everyone in the room was experiencing pain of some kind – from the loss of a loved one to challenges with children to unexpected health issues We were encouraged to acknowledge our own suffering first, allowing us to better help others, a bit like putting on your own airplane oxygen mask first. “I am always first a sheep. The day I forget that, I’m a fool,” said Scott Shaum (our retreat facilitator from Barnabas International).
Scott set the foundation of the weekend with a challenge to always being “tethered to the Father” – relationally, biblically and theologically. I like the word “tethered,” because it gives me a picture of never being out there on my own. God’s love and strength are available to me, if I choose to stay connected.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians. 1:3-4)
Scott’s solid teaching connected with each one in the room. And as we thought about the many versions of pain we see in those around us, his words resonated:
If I were to simply seek to help the person find a solution to his or her pain as quickly as possible, I might just be undermining the redemptive work God wants to do through a time of patient endurance. Thus, in the presence of one who is experiencing difficulties of any severity, a care provider’s primary response is not one of facilitating a remedy for the problems at hand, but rather that of being a journey mate through personal hardship as God’s redemptive purposes are explored. There is no greater gift we can give someone suffering than our simple, abiding, enduring presence.
–Scott Shaum, “Reflections on A Theology of Suffering” in Trauma and Resilience: A Handbook, 18-19.
If God is prompting you to walk with someone in suffering today, I’ll pass on a few of Scott’s recommended resources:
• Michael Reeves. Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith. IVP, 2012.
• John Swinton. Raging with Compassion: Pastoral Responses to the Problem of Evil. Eerdmans, 2007.
• Jerry Sittser. A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss. Zondervan, 2004.
This was a time of great encouragement, learning and healing for me. I’m thankful to be connected to an organization that cares so much about my deep development.