If you are a human being living on Earth, you have suffered. Even if by some chance you haven’t experienced significant suffering yet, you will at some point in the future — the Bible actually discusses this in multiple places, like 2 Corinthians 4:11. But when we are “delivered over to death,” whether literally or metaphorically, how should we respond?
Let’s take a look at some of the common traps of suffering and how we can best deal with them.
Trap #1: Isolation
One of the first things that happens when we suffer is that we feel cut off from everyone around us. We feel misunderstood and unwanted by those who are supposed to love us best. This may be because we are a living reminder to our loved ones that suffering can happen to anyone, anywhere — and they’d rather not deal with that particular reality.
Trap #2: Self-Focus
When you are suffering, it is hard to consider others before yourself. Your troubles may consume you, demanding all your time and energy until you have nothing left for anyone else. And then after a while, all your suffering can lead to a weird sort of pride that makes you think of yourself as better than others who haven’t suffered as you have.
Trap #3: Shame
When we suffer greatly, sometimes we wonder if we have done something wrong. Are we being punished for a wrong we committed? Sometimes we may even feel guilty about things that have nothing to do with our suffering. There is a sense in the back of our minds that we are being punished for being “bad” — and the fact that this isn’t logical doesn’t help us get past it.
Trap #4: Anger
Anger at God, or anger at other people (including yourself), can be downright debilitating. You may feel so angry at the perceived responsible party — the person or thing that has caused your hardship — that you become volatile and full of rage. Or perhaps your anger manifests as cynicism, and you express your bitterness through sarcasm and pessimistic words.
Trap #5: Acceptance
Sometimes, Traps 1-4 can come together in such a way that the person who is suffering actually becomes comfortable with the misery and begins to accept it as a part of life. Perhaps the prospect of returning to “real life” has become overwhelming, or maybe it’s the bittersweet feeling of self-pity and the attention it earns. Additionally, you may find that your suffering gives you permission to engage in activities you otherwise couldn’t get away with — and so you choose, either passively or actively, to remain in your misery instead of working toward redemption.
What Must We Do?
First, it’s important to seek God’s grace in situations of suffering. The old adage “He won’t give you more than you can handle” is, unfortunately, untrue. God will give you more than you can handle, because you aren’t supposed to be handling it at all — you are supposed to be bringing it to Him so that He can take the burden for you. Quite frankly, we cannot even handle ourselves — our sinfulness, our unfaithfulness, our traitorous hearts. He must handle us. And so we have to run to Him with our suffering instead of trying to figure it all out on our own.
Suffering can send you down one of two paths: either it will drive you into yourself, making you lonely and isolated; or it will steer you into greater community. Seek the friendship and counsel of others whenever possible so that you won’t be stuck inside your own head (what a dangerous place that can be!).
Spend an appropriate amount of time examining your heart, but then turn your focus outward so that God can show you opportunities for ministry. Remind yourself of the truth that “there is no condemnation” by spending time in God’s word, and ask God to deal with your anger and to help you see the purpose in your suffering. And above all, remember to trust, even when it seems impossible.