One of the things I learned while I was on the field is how to suffer.
I know, I know, that’s so dramatic. But it’s true. There are so many different kinds of trials that it’s hard to talk about them in generalities, so right now I’m going to focus on compassion, otherwise known as suffering with others.
When I was in Mexico, I learned something about three different friends in the youth group there: one who was 15 and pregnant, one struggling with homosexual feelings, and one who was abusing drugs. I was totally overwhelmed by each of these situations, knowing full well that I had never dealt with any of those specific things, and I had no idea how to help. These were obviously not the only overwhelming or painful situations I encountered in my ministry, but these were the ones that hurt me most. I remember one night in particular, going into the bathroom in our apartment and just sobbing as silently as I could. I didn’t even know what to pray to God, much less what to say to them. I felt helpless as a missionary, and even more importantly, as a friend.
But the story isn't over. A favorite verse of mine is Psalm 56:8 – “Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll – are they not in your record?” I love the thought that God knows our every tear. One of the shortest verses in the Bible, “Jesus wept,” demonstrates one of Jesus’ defining attributes: his compassion on humanity, manifested by his coming to our world and suffering with us to show us that he cares and to save us from the worst of fates. Paul says to the Colossians that he rejoices in his sufferings for them, that he is “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, the church”.
These words convince me that there is something inherently and yet intangibly valuable in our sufferings here on earth. I wish I could calculate it right away, but I guess that’s where trust comes in; it’s not an exact equation. In these situations with my friends that I described, I cried for them and let my tears be a prayer for healing and redemption. My suffering isn’t like Jesus’ in the sense that his washed away our sins, but my suffering can, like Paul’s, make a difference in my own soul as well as others, by the grace of God. Sometimes there are happy endings, and other times we just have to wait and watch, remembering that God really does care. I’ll end with this poem I wrote after that night of crying in the bathroom:
in a cup, just
like you promised.
If you can walk on water,
you can build my tears into
something beautiful. I trust
you, more than ever tonight.
This pain must be used for
healing, like yours.