An online dictionary defines suffering as “the bearing of pain or distress…the state or an instance of enduring pain” (thefreedictionary.com/suffering). It doesn’t classify it or categorize it by the degree of the pain or distress being experienced; but instead defines it by any instance of pain or distress. Ever notice that most people don’t view it that way?
I can be perfectly content to label my own circumstance as suffering, and by the above definition it may be; but then I watch someone else go through something so much worse and suddenly my perspective changes. My own suffering seems to shrink back and I feel ashamed to have labelled it “suffering” in the first place.
It’s one of the first things we learn in counseling, you don’t allow your clients (especially in a group setting) to compare their suffering to someone else’s. You validate their pain.
Imagine you go to a grief support group because your best friend was killed in an accident and it rattled everything in your life down to the core. You question how someone so young could be killed, why your friend’s family has to suffer that loss, and now you can’t even get in a car without having a panic attack. You are suffering. Now imagine you get to your grief support group and find out that the person across from you lost a child. Could it get worse than that? The person next to you watched her husband be murdered and he died in her arms. The person on the other side of you lost a spouse and 2 children in a plane crash. Each person in that group could feel that someone else had it worse; and each person could feel that no one had pain like theirs. So instead of comparing who suffered the most, we instead acknowledged that everyone suffered and is suffering. You acknowledge that each person there is experiencing the worst that they’ve ever suffered, and listen to their cries of pain.
I was reminded today of a verse, Hebrews 5:7, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (NIV). Take a second to re-read it. I did. It made me do a double take. Do you see it? First, during Jesus’ life he begged and pleaded with his Father, knowing God could save him from death. He didn’t want to die. He didn’t want to suffer. It weighed on him not just near the end when his suffering was imminent, but throughout his life.
But that’s not the most profound part to me. What hits me so hard is where it says, “and he was heard.” He was heard; but being heard did NOT remove the suffering. It did NOT take away the death he faced. It did NOT change the plan. But he WAS heard.
How often do we assume we are not heard because the plan hasn’t changed, because we are still suffering, because our friend is still battling cancer, because the surgery didn’t work, because the loved one died, because the pain still continues? Suffering doesn’t mean we weren’t heard any more than feeling alone means that God has abandoned us.
I’ve had clients that I just didn’t know what to do for them any more. I had seen them for over 6 months and felt like zero progress was made; but they kept coming back. They refused to see someone else. They liked me because I made them feel heard and they didn’t have anyone else in their life that made them feel that way. My supervisor told me, “Never underestimate the power of feeling heard. It can be healing in and of itself.”
I wonder what it would be like if we allowed God to do that for us. If we allowed the knowledge that He heard us to truly and deeply sink into our beings. If we could feel healed by that even though our circumstances haven’t changed, even though we are still suffering…we know that God has heard us. He drew near. The Spirit offers those same prayers and petitions fervently on our behalf (Romans 8:26-27). Jesus intercedes for us at the right hand of God (Romans 8:34). We are not only seen in our suffering, our cries are heard; Jesus and the Spirit intercede for us.
Intercede is defined as “to plead on another’s behalf” (thefreedictionary.com/intercede). Intercession does not mean the plan changes or the suffering goes away. It means that God heard you. If you know God’s heart and you trust Him with His plan…can you let being heard be enough? Can you let it bring you healing? Can the miracle be not the removal of your suffering, but the healing within you DESPITE your suffering? Can you trust God’s love as you stand in the furnace? Can I?