I recently sat in a living room with 10 adults and two of them shared with the rest of us the immense pain and trial they were going through. And as I sat there and watched the response of the other adults in the room I was reminded that being a member of a local church means being a part of the best community in the world.

How so? The church, if it is “being the church,” eliminates the possibility of suffering alone. When we live in authentic community with other followers of Jesus we do not have to fear facing the inevitable suffering of this life by ourselves. We can know that being in God’s family means we have brothers and sisters who will be with us while we suffer.

But what does it look like to be with each other in suffering? I think many of us avoid those who are suffering, not because we don’t care, but because we aren’t sure what to do. We fear not having the words to say or the answers to give about the “why” of suffering. But as I sat in that living room of adults who were listening to a couple share the deep pain of recent suffering, I was reminded that being with each other in suffering doesn’t mean having all the answers or solutions, but begins with simply offering a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on.

Being with each other in suffering doesn’t mean having all the answers or solutions, but begins with simply offering a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. Click To Tweet

See, although we want to give answers to sufferers and somehow “fix” their problem, we have to realize that that is not the best first step nor is it necessarily what we are called to do. When we try to give reasons or rationale to why the suffering is happening that can come across as extremely insensitive and cold and do more damage than good. Yes, we have verses in Scripture like Romans 8:28 that offer hope and comfort in our trials, but we also have verses in Scripture like Romans 12:15 that tell us to simply “weep with those who weep.”

Joni Erickson Tada, who has experienced immense suffering in her own life, talked about this in an interview in 2013:

“When I was a little girl, I remember riding my bike down a steep hill. I made a right-hand turn. My wheels skidded out on gravel and I crashed to the ground. My knee was a bloody mess. My dad comes running out. I’m screaming and crying. Although I didn’t ask why, if I had, how cruel it would have been for my father to stand over me and say, “Well, sweetheart, let me answer that question. The next time you’re going down the hill, watch the steepness, be careful about the trajectory of your turn, be observant of gravel.” Those would all have been good answers to the question, “Why did this happen?” But when people are going through great trauma and great grief, they don’t want to know why. They want Daddy to pick them up, press them against his chest, pat them on the back, and say, “There, there, sweetheart, Daddy’s here. It’s OK.” When we are hurting, that’s what we want. We want God to be Daddy: warm, compassionate, real, in the middle of our suffering. We want fatherly assurance that our world is not spinning out of control. . . . Don’t you dare be caught rejoicing with those who weep.”[1]

When we weep with those who weep, we reflect our Heavenly Father’s behavior towards us when we suffer. He does not always give us the answers or reasons why we suffer, but He is always with us. In the Psalms, King David declares the comforting reality that, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted.” (Psalm 34:18) The author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus, being fully human, “sympathizes with all our weaknesses.” (Hebrews 4:14-16) The Apostle Peter tells us to “cast all your anxieties upon the Lord” because “He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) When we suffer, we don’t always know why, but we do always know that God is with us.

When we weep with those who weep, we reflect our Heavenly Father’s behavior towards us when we suffer. He does not always give us the answers or reasons why we suffer, but He is always with us. Click To Tweet

As followers of Jesus we are called to offer that same kind of comfort to those who suffer in our family of faith, the comfort of presence. We don’t have to have all the answers, often we won’t have any answers, but we can be with them. We can let them cast their anxieties upon us, care for them, offer sympathy, and then, when the time is right, remind them of the truth that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (2 Corinthians 4:17)

In a local church we never have to weep alone. In a local church we have a community grounded in the truth of a God who knows and cares and will one day fix it all.

The church truly is the best community in the world.

[1] https://world.wng.org/2013/01/joni_eareckson_tada_on_words_that_hurt_actions_that_help?#.UPTdU5mWVRk.twitter