Our Suffering is not Unique

We are several months into the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of us have been “staying at home,” or in some form of lockdown for over a month now, some longer. These are strange times, difficult times, and we all know people who have suffered greatly because of this pandemic. We have suffered too: there are many losses, financial strain, anxiety and fear.

But our suffering is not unique.

We hear that these are unprecedented times, that our world will change forever, that things will never be the same. We read an over-abundance of information about our present day circumstances. We struggle to understand whom to trust, what information is accurate and unbiased, whose agenda we agreed with most. We deliberate over many judgment calls.

My point is not to undermine our suffering; my aim is to remind us that we join arms with many before us who have suffered greatly too. We would do well to think on the suffering of others throughout the course of history, to find encouragement in their stories of faithfulness; to limit our media intake, which promotes negativity and an obsession with our current time and crisis; and to continue pursuing Christian community in a time when it’s especially challenging.

My point is not to undermine our suffering; my aim is to remind us that we join arms with many before us who have suffered greatly too.

If we are consumed with our current day suffering, we cannot fix our eyes on Christ. If we are convinced that our suffering is unique, we are collectively self-centered. There are many reasons why we should choose to focus our minds on faith in Christ, on the faithfulness of God as he fulfills his promises, and not on the fear that we are tempted to experience during a worldwide pandemic. If we are to remain faithful as believers, and if our witness as a church is to proclaim peace and hope in a mighty God, we must actively live in faith rather than fear.

But… how?

Practically speaking, how do we choose faith over fear? How to we reject the narrative that our suffering is unique? Here are some suggestions that have been helping me lately.

+ take a spiritual, emotional, mental assessment

Let’s slow down, turn off all the “noise” and ask God to reveal to us what we are battling with. Why are you afraid? What is it that is making me fearful? Is it my health, or the health of my loved ones? Is it the financial strain that has hit, or is inevitably coming? Is it that people have said “life will never be the same” and the unknown is scary? Is it that I’m not sure I can do one more day with my kids at home running crazy, and yet I have a whole summer in front of me?

I encourage you to dust off the journal, and pour out your heart before God. Ask him to make plain your fears, your anxieties, your disappointments, your griefs. Jesus is our friend in grief, a lesson I have been learning for a few years. Pour out your heart to him, sit at his feet and rest in his love. It will do wonders for your weary, fearful soul.

+ reflect on history, and God’s faithfulness over the course of time

I’m sure many of you have seen this article reminding us of C.S. Lewis’ wise words written during a time when the threat of an atomic bomb was emerging. While the COVID-19 pandemic is a unique trial of our time, it is certainly not the first, nor likely the last, of it’s kind. Whether it be past pandemics, wars, economic or social strife, natural disasters, or any other crisis, our faith in an eternal God transcends the current event of 2020. Christians throughout history have sought to be faithful through hardships to a faithful God.

There are so many examples. Reread the stories of Noah, of Moses, of Joseph, of David, of the prophets. Many biblical characters experienced nationwide suffering on account of famine, war, persecution, enslavement. Many others experienced very difficult personal circumstances, and their stories have much to teach us too. Read Corrie ten Boom and her story of living as Christian during the Holocaust. Or read Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxes, or something by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (The Cost of Discipleship is a classic). Choose a Puritan writer. There are many over the course of history who’ve written honestly and brutally about suffering and faithfulness. These stories would encourage us again now.

+ limit media

I’m not the only one saying this, but there’s an overwhelming amount of media, mostly relatively negative, on the current state of our world. While it is important to keep up on a basic level so that we are informed, know how to behave and pray, we would do well to limit our time reading the news and engaging in social media. When we are reading constantly about predictions based upon worst case scenarios or data, we fail to take into account that we serve a God who is greater than this pandemic. His power and authority are not factored into the major news sources and so we are tempted to think the results are left to human experts. It’s worth saying again: God is greater than this pandemic!

We have the ability to choose the amount of media we consume, and this choice will directly affect our overall mindset.

We have the ability to choose the amount of media we consume, and this choice will directly affect our overall mindset. Check in once a day, or less, to keep updated. Then turn off the “noise” and use your time toward more holistic pursuits.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is brett-wisdom_pyramid-freebies-white-full.png
source: https://www.brettmccracken.com/blog/2017/8/3/the-wisdom-pyramid

Brett McCracken developed this pyramid three years ago: in this time “where we are bombarded by a glut of content and information but have so little wisdom, I think we need guidance on healthier habits of knowledge intake. We need a wisdom pyramid. We need to think about what sorts of “knowledge groups,” and in what proportion, feed a healthy life of true wisdom and true joy” (read full article here). His whole article is worth a read, and it is a worthwhile use of our time to ask these questions of our knowledge sources.

+ do not neglect community

Churches have been amazingly resourceful on the fly during this pandemic, and have provided all sorts of virtual support through online services, opportunities for counseling, Zoom (or WhatsApp in our case) small group meetings, etc. Meeting together online at the same time on Sunday does not, however, replace real life fellowship with believers – the body of Christ. In this time when we cannot or do not often see people in our communities, we still need to be intentional about pursuing community.

What does that look like during a pandemic? Checking in on each other. Making real phone calls. Sending cards, or ecards. Dropping off a bag of groceries or a meal. Sending emails. Reaching out particularly to the lonely. Not just to say “hi,” but to ask the deeper questions of:

  • how are you coping?
  • are you sleeping at night?
  • are you in the Word?
  • how can I support you?

The body of Christ needs each other, and all the more during a worldwide crisis. We are purposed to “bear each other’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2), and it just so happens that we collectively share a huge burden currently. If we neglect the fellowship of believers now, we will emerge from this weary, broken, and beaten down.

Look to Christ…and rejoice.

So, we reject that our suffering is unique, but look to the past, to the throngs of other faithful believers, and ultimately to Christ who experienced humanity’s deepest suffering on account of us. We choose to live in faith that God has got this, and not in fear. We are actively “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2-3).

And we cling to hope: “…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

One thought on “Our Suffering is not Unique

  1. These are such good and helpful thoughts, Beth. Thank you for sharing. We need God’s quiet for our weary souls, indeed. Weary of striving, weary of avoiding, wearing of listening, weary of overthinking. “Like a weaned child against its mother’s breast, I have calmed and quieted my soul.” Psalm 131 Blessings in this time.

    Like

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