Out of Isolation- Learning to Suffer in Community

By Emily Heisinger

Suffering is a reality of life, and even though it is experienced to varying degrees, everyone has been through a hardship. Some individuals have suffered with internal distress, like a mental illness. Others have suffered through an external plight, such as a physical ailment or a life interrupting tragedy. In fact, scripture even tells us that we will suffer and gives us many human examples of it (John 16:33 NIV).

Today I want to talk about how we react to suffering, no matter how we define or experience it. I think it’s important to shed some light on this topic because I have noticed a trend among those in my Christian community that concerns me- suffering alone, and in silence.

For example, have you ever been in pain over a hardship in your life and had to hide that pain in order to feel “put together”? Have you gone to church during a trial and had to smile your way through greetings and worship only to slump into your seat and feel all alone? Maybe you feel pressure to appear to have the perfect life. If you are an avid user of social media, perhaps you hold some sort of standard of popularity that you have to reach in order to feel like you are accepted.

Today, let’s ask ourselves why. Why do we feel the need to have it all together? What is compelling us to hide from one another when we feel pain and go through hardship? Perhaps it is the world we live in today, that runs strongly on trends and fads with the expectation that everyone will fit into a certain mold.

However you answer this question, know this- suffering alone and in silence is not the design that God has for you when you face distress.

Galations 6:2 says:

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (NIV).”

 Because suffering is mutually shared by every person in existence, there has to be more to it than to bottle it up and pretend it isn’t there. What if we created an experience of suffering where community grew and connected because of it?

I recently listened to a podcast featuring popular Christian author Shauna Neiquist. In the episode, she speaks about her community, and uses the phrase “middle of the night, emergency room friends” to describe them. What she means is that these are the people who would be at the hospital at 2am if she needed them. However, in this community the support doesn’t end at the hospital. Shauna says that her friends would be there for her in the aftermath. They would bring meals to her house, take care of her children, do her laundry, and clean her kitchen.

In a book she has written, Bread and Wine, she also applies these kinds of friends to other situations in her life; like when she lost her job, or when she miscarried twins. She speaks of sitting around a dinner table with them and crying together over these things when the pain cut the deepest.

This is a striking example of suffering in community. This is how God designed the body of Christ to treat one another, and we can read about it in 1 Corinthians 12:25-27, where it is written that if one member of the body suffers, all members suffer together (NIV). Shauna doesn’t need to be perfect to those “emergency room friends”, because she trusts them. They will be there for her no matter what, and she won’t have to suffer alone.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if you had a community like this to turn to in your suffering? No matter how you might feel in the moment, hold on to this truth- you do not need to suffer alone and in silence. God is close to you (Psalm 23, NIV), and he wants his children to bear each other’s burdens when times are difficult. Here is a list of five practical ways you can begin building this design of suffering in your life this week:

  1. Start by praying openly and honestly with God about your hardships. He is there, and he is close. Lean into him during your suffering.
  2. Journal! Take note of the way you currently suffer, and how you would like to see this change. Maybe take note of some of the scriptures mentioned above.
  3. Open up to a trusted friend about something going on in your life currently. Start a new pattern in your suffering.
  4. Research and choose a church small group to join! Whatever format you choose, get involved in a Christian community.
  5. Be the opposite end of things! Try reaching out to a friend and seeing how they are truly and honestly doing. Ask them if you can pray for them, or if there is anything they might need help through!

 

Pictures thanks to Jenny Oetzell.

By |2017-09-21T15:07:04+00:00September 21st, 2017|Blog, Contents|1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Jeanie September 22, 2017 at 6:09 am - Reply

    Thanks Emily. This is helpful and profound.
    Jeanie Newman

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