Love’s Role in Suffering.

I’ve been struggling against a popular idea that suffering brings growth.  Last week, I wrote about my own experiences with tough times. Character building and lessons learned have only come to pass in the aftermath of difficulty when God has used others to love me.

It turns out that almost everyone disagrees with me and I’m trying to figure out if we are simply describing nuanced differences of the same idea. From my perspective, problems do not cause growth, but instead it’s the out-pouring of love and support that brings healing.

Last week I heard many renditions of this:  Had I never gone through ________________ (financial crisis, health scare, betrayal, rejection), I would never have known the depths of________________  (my own resourcefulness, God’s faithfulness, the presence of love in the world around me, the intimacy in a specific relationship)!   I agree with this idea and I have my own small lessons learned to show that this simple equation can hold true. My sweet bloggy friend Jen wrote about the suffering that comes with loss and how this opened a more intimate relationship in her life. Gayle said she knew God in a deeper way once her house was burned down.  I know friends who have lost family members to tragedy and have come to appreciate those who are still alive all the more.  So why do I fight against this concept so much?

My main problem with embracing the no pain – no gain, it’s good for him, difficulty builds character attitude is that it absolves me from reaching out and helping.

There is a snarky, sneaky little voice that whispers absolution to me: No need to lift a finger, this is one of life’s little lessons for her to learn.  Or, She made her bed, now she’ll need to lie in it.

If the hungry family is experiencing what is “good” for them, why should I offer food?   If the crying child at recess is building character, why would other kids need to be coached in how to show love?  If the betrayed wife crying into her pillow is drawing closer to God because of her pain, who am I to try to stop it?

Suffering happens:  Yes

We can grow from it: Yes

How do I grow from it? By experiencing love and support during it.

What is my responsibility when I see others suffer? Love them.

Why are there so many who seem to create a vacant space around fellow suffer-ers?  Why do women in divorce feel as if they’ve lost their husband and their best friends in one fell swoop?  Why does a mother grieving her baby’s death feel so alone in her pain?  Why do bullied helpless children see other parents and teachers awkwardly look the other way?  Why do out-of-work men feel as if they have a contagious disease?  These dark times could be lessened with a little love.

Through support during hardship, I learned about unconditional love, grace, mercy and forgiveness.  These were the lessons I needed to know.  When there was no safety net and the bottom appeared to be cold, lonely and with no outstretched hand to hold, all I learned was to expect suffering. There was never redemption in the heartache.

But each time love entered…now, that was another story ending altogether.  I guess it’s my job to look at my own difficulties and recovery to figure out what they can teach me – about God, myself and other people.  When others are suffering, my job is to extend myself and alleviate as much of it as possible.

5 Comments on “Love’s Role in Suffering.”

  1. I don’t think that God ever intends for us to go through suffering alone. I could be wrong, but I look at how Jesus specifically calls us to support the poor, widowed, and orphaned. Through it all though, we learn to depend on Him. I believe that He puts the call on our hearts to go out and serve. I totally agree with you that as Christians, as women, we are called to love. Every single day. Sometimes love looks like listening, sometimes it’s caring someone’s children after school, sometimes it’s giving money. Help can come in so many forms, as can love.

  2. Danette Mares says:

    You are AWESOME, and God has truly blessed you with the gift to help others. So glad you are a part of my life, without you knowing, you have blessed my life in so many was. I thank you for it.

    Danette Mares

  3. Amy Sullivan says:

    Caution: I use way too many transition words in this post.

    Ok, first off, excited to have you at my place on Friday!

    Second, I’ve peeked around your new place before (I like it, I like it!), but this is my first comment.

    Third, “It turns out everyone disagrees with me…”. That made me laugh.

    Fourth, I agree with Jen. I don’t think we are intended to suffer alone, no way. I do agree it’s our job to reach out a hand to those who need help, period. I also agree with you in that problems alone don’t cause growth. I do feel that problems push you to question motives, situations, and beliefs, and that sometimes leads to growth.

    Funny, some friends and I were talking about this very thing recently.

    And that’s my two cents.

  4. Charlotte says:

    You pose some very interesting observations. Suffering is not an easy subject, and most of us avoid suffering as much as we can. I think we probably will never fully understand this side of eternity.
    BTW my all time best friend since the 1940s was named Irene Libby. So, I really like your name.

  5. Lisa says:

    I appreciate your post Joy! Recovery and healing is an amazing thing when love shines through the darkness. I look back on my past and I am so thankful for strangers and friends who accepted me, cared for me, and took me in. The love of others helped me realize that I was worth fighting for and that I am valued. Lisa

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