“Well, your suffering isn’t like Job’s…”
Ever hear something along those lines? Frankly, I think it is largely an ignorant statement. Suffering is hard. What compounds the hardship is the difficulty by which we try to engage people when suffering occurs. It takes courage to admit struggle and suffering. If it is met with a statement of belittlement, such as “well think of Job, he lost everything”, then the suffering leaves one further in isolation and worse, it puts pressure on the one suffering to quickly make things better.
Because immediacy makes all things better, right?
Our culture is one which devalues the space required for suffering. I think this is true in the secular and religious contexts (those terms are terms I’m growing to hate, but they work). You don’t hear sermons on suffering too often, and if you do, at the end of the thirty minute talk, the story is one of redemption. Praise Jesus and all, right? Well, yes, but life’s problems aren’t so easy to solve. Yes, we may hear of the suffering of Job and Joseph and the Apostle Paul, but when the sermon wraps up with redemption it indirectly promotes the immediacy of solution to difficulties. Life just doesn’t work like that and sermons typically do not provide suffering the justice that it needs.
The thing about suffering is that it requires an indefinite amount of time. It’s a process, and a highly subjective one. Yet, we often try to expedite the process when in conversation with the one who suffers. Words probably meant for consolation might actually cause more harm. Space and time is required. Words are immediate and violently attack the sufferer.
Kierkegaard once said “my life is one great suffering, unknown and incomprehensible to others.” While I won’t here delve into a biographical sketch of this great and brilliant man, he suffered in numerous ways: health, family death, and a sacrifice of his romantic partner. But the terms which should here be concentrated on are “unknown” and “incomprehensible.” Suffering is subjective and its relationship to the person is also subjective. When one who suffers invites another into the suffering, it is an invitation for presence. It is a violation to try and expedite the process, because really, the observer lacks the subjective understanding of the sufferer’s suffering. The observer may gain insightful facts and knowledge about the person’s suffering, but because the observer is not the sufferer a subjective understanding will lack.
Lines such as “your suffering isn’t like Job’s” are largely offensive. They mean nothing. One does not need to have the riches of the world in order to lose everything. Suffering is not a process which should be expedited, however much one wants it. To expedite is to deny or negate a necessary process which further will develop the self. What is left is an unrealized self.
When asked to enter into one’s suffering, know that it is your presence that is probably desired. Wait to speak until your words are petitioned for. Let the process take its course. When one suffers and God is absent, the mere presence of love is what one needs. Entering into one’s suffering should be a beautiful thing; a combination of presence in the moment and space to allow process. To maximize this, its probably best to shut up for a while.