The Sacrifice of Suffering With

The Sacrifice of Suffering With June 4, 2024
Two people holding hands
Photo by Kindel Media:

My First Real Loss

The year I graduated from high school I stayed for a while with a gentleman who was manager of the little outdoor furniture factory where I worked during my high school years. My plan was to spend a year working and saving before I began college, and this individual, Mr. Ted, and his wife were kind enough to allow me to live with them for that interim period. One frosty morning as Christmas approached, before sunrise, I received a call from my mother informing me that my grandfather had just passed away. I was devastated. This was really the only father figure I had ever known, and I was just getting to the age (and maturity level) where I could appreciate his gruff love.

The reaction was instantaneous and unreserved. I immediately burst into tears and turned into the embrace of the man who had taken me in for the year. A Christian man, he folded his arms around me as I, a nineteen year old almost man myself, wept unreservedly, wetting his shoulder with my tears. I don’t remember that he said anything at all, just that he stood there for as long as I needed, letting me vent my grief into his space.

A Deeper Grief

A few years later, also around Christmas, I made a trip from my college dorm to downtown Chattanooga to visit my mother, who lived in public housing there on the edge of the city. This was on a Monday. The Friday before, I had proposed to my girlfriend and she had, wonder of wonders, accepted. I was proud to be able to announce to my mother the next evening, Saturday, that Celia and I would be getting married. My mother, who was fighting cancer brought on by years and years of smoking, smiled a tired little smile and told me to take good care of her. I didn’t know when I next came to her apartment, on that Monday morning, she would be gone. My grandmother met me at the apartment door with the news. Of course, I immediately called my wife-to-be and she came right away and held me while I wept, again, tears of sorrow and regret, and the grief this time was even deeper and more raw than when I lost my grandfather.

To Suffer With

Compassion is a concrete expression of love for another.
Photo by Dave Lowe on Unsplash

Our English word, compassion, comes from the Latin root, pati, which means “to suffer”, along with the prefix com-, which means “with.” To be compassionate means, at its most basic level, to suffer with someone who is suffering. Mr. Ted suffered with me when I learned of my grandfather’s passing. Likewise, Celia suffered with me at the death of my mother. The key takeaway here is that having compassion does not mean merely “feeling sorry for” someone. Rather, it implies a sharing of pain and suffering and sorrow. It is saying and showing, “I am hurting with you.”

In 2 Corinthians 1:3, Paul explicitly describes God as the “Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,” who comforts us so that we in turn can comfort others. I think of this verse, and my own experiences receiving compassion from others, when I look at the turmoil we are facing in our world today. There is so much anger, so many asserting their rights or arguing their position. We are shouting over each other, anxious that our thoughts be heard, focused on winning the debate, whatever debate we are in. What we are not doing is being compassionate. We are not suffering with those who are perpetually marginalized and fearful. Instead, we are arguing with them as to whether or not they have a right to feel that way. We are not suffering with those who are worried sick over a potential job loss or financial ruin. Instead, we charge them with being greedy and caring more about money than lives.

We are calling names, forgetting that the truest description of any of us should be brother, sister, Child of God. We are arguing the finer points of law and personal responsibility, convinced that if we could just get them (whoever them is) to see the error of their ways, we would have peace. We are accusing and charging and defending and deflecting, and none of that is what we are called to do.

Beloved, let us LOVE one another, for love is of God and everyone that loves is birthed by God and knows God, for God is love (1 John 4:7, 8).

Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for (suffer with) his brother (John 15:13).

The Passion of Christ

There’s a reason we call the death of Christ the “passion.” He certainly suffered. But that death was not, strictly speaking, compassion, for it was not a death with us, but a death in place of us. His life and ministry, on the other hand, were totally given over to compassion. He suffered with his disciples, with Mary and Martha, with those forbidden to participate in the temple services, with the woman at the well. He suffered with all of humanity, living the kind of life we have all lived, full of sorrow and pain and suffering. And in his compassion, he never argued with or pointed a finger at or passed condemning judgement on any of the hurting who came to him for healing or direction or purpose.

How can we, how can I, do any less?

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