The gift of suffering

A young woman sat in my office, hurt and scared. Her husband had abandoned her. She had two small children, no job, and an education that had been interrupted for that marriage and those kids. What would she do?

I said the things preachers say, read a Scripture and prayed, but felt I had been inadequate.

Afterward, however, I began to think. I knew another woman in the congregation, an older woman, who had suffered something similar. I phoned the other woman and asked: “Can you do me a favor?”

This woman, in her 50s, had been similarly abandoned as a young woman. She had raised three great kids, however, became a business owner, and somehow kept her sanity and her faith.

The next Sunday I saw the older woman walk across to the broken, frightened younger woman and call her aside. They sat on a pew, holding hands the way two women do. They spoke for some time.

But what I will never forget is what the older woman said to me. Of course she could say what I could not say: She could say, “I know exactly how you feel.” And she could say, “You can survive this. I did. You can, too.”

But these were the older woman’s words: “I finally realized that my suffering was my gift to her!”

Please understand, I would never wish suffering on anybody. Nor do I expect you to respond to suffering immediately with a philosophical “I know what I’ll do, I’ll help others!”

But when you’ve recovered from you setback or heartbreak, begin to ask: “How can my suffering be of assistance to others?”

A cancer survivor can give precisely this gift to someone who has been diagnosed with that dreaded disease; a victim of bereavement can mourn with one who has just lost a loved one; someone who has lost a job can console one who has just been laid off; the victim of disillusionment could benefit from one who has seen a hero fall himself.

We are urged to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). We are told that those who mourn are “blessed” because “they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). We are to “share” in each other’s “suffering” so that we can also “share” in each other’s “comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:7).

Suffering is neither pleasant nor wanted, of course. But we will all suffer, probably more than once in our lives. When you come out of the other end of your suffering, could you please consider offering your suffering as a gift to someone else?

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Stan Mitchell

Stan has preached since 1976, in Zimbabwe, California, Texas and Tennessee. He serves as preacher for the Red Walnut Church of Christ in Bath Springs, TN. He is currently Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He is married to the former Marjorie McCarthy, and has one daughter, Tracy Watts. He is the author of four books: The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: The Book of Proverbs, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, and Equipping the Saints for Ministry. He has recently published another book, "Will Our Faith Have Children: Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation.

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