An Open Letter to a Distressed Sufferer

My dear friend,

My heart breaks for you regarding the burden you shared with me last evening. I have known you for a long time and have witnessed how you have persevered through many trials. But this one—oh, how deeply grievous it is. I know your head is spinning and your emotions are all over the place. Surprise, grief, fear, confusion, anger, doubt—and yes, shaky hope, were all intermingled as you poured out your heart to me. I was thankful for the opportunity to pray with you briefly, but I wanted to follow up today with a few words that I hope God might use to bring comfort and lift your weary head just a bit. (I realize that silence and simple presence are often the best gifts to offer someone in the midst of suffering, but I know you well enough to take the risk of saying more!)

I think what I want to communicate most is that you’re not alone. Jesus, the Suffering Servant, walked a path of grief and anguish ahead of you and for you. And now, he is with you by his Spirit. We often think of Jesus’ suffering primarily in the context of his crucifixion and death. This is true, but in another sense, the whole of Jesus’ life comprised suffering. Paul captures this in Philippians 2:5–8. The incarnation itself was a down escalator to the basement of fallen human misery. Jesus suffered his entire life by setting aside his glory and rightful splendor. He faced the toils and trials and heartaches every human being faces in a broken and sin-laden world.

What does this mean for you and for me? It means that when we experience suffering, we can turn to Jesus—a brother and friend who understands suffering from the inside (Hebrews 2:18). It means we can pour out our troubles to one who is a man of sorrows and familiar with grief (Isaiah 53:3). The Lamb who was slain and resurrected, having triumphed over sin and death, stands ready to pour out grace and mercy in your time of need (Hebrews 4:15–16).

Dear friend, I have no definitive answer for why God has permitted this particular tsunami to flood your life. But while we can’t penetrate the mysteries of suffering, we can be sure of this: our gracious and strong Lifeguard will not let us be swept away. Whether we are flailing about in our panic or nearly comatose with grief, he holds us fast next to his heart and swims with us toward safety. Our suffering as believers is never the end of the story even when it looms large in our eyes—sometimes as large as death itself.

Even as I write these words, I know in my times of suffering I need to pray, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). I’m tempted to spiral downward and inward in the midst of deep affliction, wondering: Is there really a way through this? Where is God when the pain is so great? Does he truly care? You voiced some of those questions yourself last night. One way we lean against despair in the midst of trials is by acknowledging our distress before God rather than have our questions bounce off the echo chamber of our own minds.

One way we lean against despair in the midst of trials is by acknowledging our distress before God rather than have our questions bounce off the echo chamber of our own minds. Click To Tweet

Can I encourage you to cry out to your Father, as the psalmists do, knowing that our God will not hide his face from you? He will hear you when you cry to him (Psalms 22:24). Bring your questions and your grief to him. Your doubts and confusion. Your weariness and loneliness. Amazingly, God himself gives us words in Scripture to do just that. Ask him that the comfort of Christ might be given to you just as you are sharing in Christ’s sufferings (2 Corinthians 1:5). And if it takes too much energy to form words right now, know that the Spirit himself is interceding for you “with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

I’ll close for now. Please know that your burden is my burden and I am privileged to walk alongside you. That’s another way in which you are not alone, embedded as you are in the body of Christ.

Your friend,
Mike


This post originally ran on the CCEF blog.


Saints, Sufferers, and Sinners

SAINTS, SUFFERERS, AND SINNERS: LOVING OTHERS AS GOD LOVES US

Author and counselor Michael R. Emlet outlines a model of one-another ministry based on how God sees and loves his people primarily as saints, while bringing comfort to the sufferer, and faithfully speaking truth to the sinner.  

About the author

Michael R. Emlet

Michael R. Emlet, MDiv, MD, practiced as a family physician for over ten years before becoming a counselor and faculty member at the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF). He is the author of the books CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet, Descriptions and Prescriptions: A Biblical Perspective on Psychiatric Diagnoses and Medications, Saints, Sufferers, and Sinners: Loving Others as God Loves Us, as well as the minibooks Asperger Syndrome, Chronic Pain, Angry Children, Help for the Caregiver, and Overeating.

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Michael R. Emlet

Michael R. Emlet, MDiv, MD, practiced as a family physician for over ten years before becoming a counselor and faculty member at the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF). He is the author of the books CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet, Descriptions and Prescriptions: A Biblical Perspective on Psychiatric Diagnoses and Medications, Saints, Sufferers, and Sinners: Loving Others as God Loves Us, as well as the minibooks Asperger Syndrome, Chronic Pain, Angry Children, Help for the Caregiver, and Overeating.

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