Last Sunday I preached in Hutchinson, Minnesota. I spoke about three concerns people have when they have cancer. “A strange topic” you may say but when I preach, I pray about the topic I’m going to preach on and God’s hand was in this topic.
After the service I had the opportunity to visit with many people and learned this topic revealed deep loneliness, anguish, and isolation experienced by some believers who experience cancer.
The second of my three concerns was this: most Christians are not afraid to die but none of us want to suffer. Suffering in and of itself means nothing. Suffering only has meaning when it has relationship. I will borrow a story from Joni Eareckson Tada in her book When God Weeps.
“You are walking down a street, minding your own business, when you are accosted and forced to carry a huge and heavy basket on your back. You’re ordered to walk three blocks, turn left, go two blocks, turn right, then proceed straight on. Staggering under the weight, you stumble on, bewildered and angry. The weight of the basket is crushing. Your back is breaking. The whole thing is meaningless and haphazard. You resent how the heavy burden consumes you, becoming the focal point of your entire existence.
“When you are halfway down the third block, reeling under the burden, you finally bellow, “What gives!”
“The truth is then revealed. The burden you are carrying is your child, injured and unconscious. “What?” On top of that, you discover you are not trudging through a meaningless rat-maze but the most direct route to a hospital emergency room.
“Immediately you straighten. You inhale new vigor. Your knees quit buckling. Adrenaline and fresh energy quicken your pace, and you move forward with a new attitude. Why the change? The suffering you’re going through involves a relationship. Not just any relationship, but one with your child. It is the love you have for your child that quickens your step and buoys up your heart. Your relationship gives your burden meaning. Even your twisted path makes sense. You know where you are going. Your journey has a positive end—the hospital—and this instills hope.
“Suffering has no meaning in itself. Left to its own, it is a frustrating and bewildering burden. But given the context of relationship, suffering suddenly has meaning.”
For as Christians, we must share in each others suffering; it binds us together. In 2 Corinthians Chapter 1, Paul writes in part in verse 4, we have troubles so we can minister to those in any trouble and in verse 9 “This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” It gets rid of our self reliance.
You will notice we have trials and tribulations so we can minister or comfort one another. What I heard from people after the service is this: some of us have been blessed by our Christian brothers and sisters (I have). Others are lonely and afraid, slowly being crushed under the weight of their trials.
Shared suffering helps those suffering and it helps us. It tenders our hearts towards one another, it binds us together.
I believe times for Christians will become harder. We think we don’t need one another now but we do, and the way to get to know one another is to share each other joys and yes, even each others sufferings.