“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Friday, December 28, 2012

Entering into the suffering of others

We are in the midst of the Christmas season.  To the Christian, Christmas is about God "emptying himself and taking the form of a servant" (as it says in Philippians 2).  To use human terms, Jesus as God was having this perfect existence as God.  But He saw the desperate condition of His creation and came to them to save them, to give them hope, to be with them as they are.  Once again as Philippians says, "He didn't think equality with God was a thing to be grasped" or held onto.  He left his perfect existence to help us who have no perfection.

I have been thinking about this idea a lot.  I know very little about suffering compared with probably most of the rest of the people in the world.  I have a perfect family, a perfect job, dear friends, have never known hunger or want.  Yet all around me are people who for a variety of reasons experience all forms of suffering.  If I am to follow the example of Christ, I will recognize that perhaps I am not experiencing suffering, at the moment, so that I can support and come alongside of those who are.  As my son has told me, he has wept over suffering, but not his own.  Rather it is the suffering of others that he has entered into.

Hurting people are a morass of difficulty sometimes.  If we try to dance around them with platitudes we may help a bit, but we will not know their suffering.  People's lives are often a mess, and you cannot help if you do not get messy yourself.  A homeless man that I know has often told me that I want to take "an arm's distance approach to helping" meaning that I am not willing to dive into the difficulty that is his life.  I am sure there is some truth to that.

1 Corinthians 12 talks about the body of Christ as a metaphor for the church.  It says if one part suffers the whole body suffers.  I don't think that is true.  Perhaps that is the way it is supposed to be but I don't see that being practiced to the degree it should be.  In order for me to suffer with you, I need to enter into your suffering in some significant way.  For you to suffer with others, you must enter into their suffering in some way.  I can't really tell you how to do that, for you, but you won't have to look to far to find hurting people whose lives are a mess.

Follow the Christmas message of Christ who although He was in the form of God did not hold onto his right to be left alone as God, but humbled himself and took the form of a servant.  Why he would want to enter into the sinful muck that is our lives is unfathomable.  But He did it out of love which is a good motivation for us as well.


1 comment:

Unknown said...

I think, probably like many, that entering into another’s suffering is likely one of the more difficult undertakings we face. I have often examined this in my self and see the many weaknesses in my own commitment. Keeping other’s suffering “at arm’s length” resonates with me on many levels. I have chosen to work with exceptional students for many reasons, some personal, some professional, but all with the best intentions … but this is a comfortable choice for me. “Comfort?!” you may ask, “How is that a comfortable choice?” Well, let me attempt to nutshell that for you. In 1985 I attended the World Youth Catholic Conference in Sacramento, California. Two kids, youth leaders, from each Diocese were chosen to attend for a week and I was fortunate to be one of them. The theme was, “You can make a difference.” I have wondered ever since if I was making the difference I was called to make and fear I have fallen far short. However, let’s get back to “comfort”. There are many ways every day that we can help those around us but because of schedule, fear, resources, or whatever the reason, we may not. I have become jaded to the cries of many asking for help because of my perceptions of scam artists and exploitations by less than honest people. But that does not mean I am comfortable with not helping. It is my belief-back to the exceptional community-that the needs of the exceptional community are not less genuine than others, but I am far more inclined to immerse myself in such than with other communities or entities in need as I feel it an honest and genuine need. As much as I would like to help those “other” entities I am reluctant to enter into the morass as described and likely fall into the category of those attempting to help “at arm’s length” … until, that was, I discovered my comfort zone. I found myself better understanding the exceptional community and more comfortable entering into such than other potential avenues where my time and assistance might be used as well. We are all called but I am not so sure that it is an unconditional calling. Although I am still learning and keep an open mind, I think each of us is called very specifically and we likely all need to be listening very carefully for that voice that is getting through … the voice and mission that resonates and speaks beyond our comfort zone to the heart within.