Bitterness, Forgetfulness, or Deeper Sympathy: Where Will Your Suffering Take You?

Our trials can produce all kinds of results in our lives. Some are beautiful and some are ugly.

I’ve been mulling over one of the beautiful things that Jesus’ suffering did in his life.

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16 ESV)

I want to think about the part that says, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize..” In other words, we have a high priest who IS able to sympathize. His sympathy was secured by his trials and temptations. Do our trials and temptations secure our sympathy for others? Do our trials lead us to the throne of grace, pushing back our tendency toward disobedience and ushering mercy and help in our time of need?

During hard times, the temptations to sin are great. One way that sin tries to take hold is by telling us our suffering is too great to walk through without being angry or bitter. Sin tells us that our trial is so unique and difficult that no one else can really understand it or help us through it. This is the path to bitterness. Bitterness can never be validated enough, it is a vacuous hole of irritation at everyone else for not experiencing the suffering I’ve experienced. Bitterness is a martyr. Bitterness can only be satiated at the cross of Jesus Christ, with the acknowledgement that he has borne it all for us, and there is none to rival his pain.

Forgetfulness is another ugly road suffering can take us down. We come through some hard thing and at the end we’re done. We’ve filled our suffering quotient and did what we had to do to get through it. It’s behind us now. We’d rather not be around the people still stuck in some awful situation. Or, if we are around them, we conveniently offer the “to-dos” of how to get through it. Buck up. We’ve been there, and we’re over it. Everyone else should get over it too. Forgetfulness as a means of avoiding is unhelpful at best and untrue at worst. It’s a way we can almost rewrite what actually happened, we try to rewrite the pain and turn it all into triumph. It’s like the mother whose children are all grown and she mis-remembers everything as easier and better than it was. This woman is useless to the struggling young mom with littles. She can’t sympathize because she won’t remember the truth. Jesus didn’t do that. He remembered the trials.

Notice that no one in the universe had more legitimate reasons to take either of these paths than Jesus. Yet, his trials led him to sympathy. He is willing to sympathize with a people whose trials will always be minute compared to his. Are you willing to sympathize with people whose struggles seem really small to you? Are you willing to feel the hardship they’re feeling in such a way that it leads them to the throne of grace?

I’ve been pondering where our trial with Titus is taking us and I pray it is leading us to bigger love and sympathy for any and all trials, big and small. I felt early on when things were unfolding with Titus a need to harden myself to other people’s pain. My fear and pain over possibly losing him was so great that I couldn’t bear to really feel other people’s hardships. This is not God’s way. I am learning that grief cannot outdo love. No matter how deep it goes, it cannot consume the love of the Father in Jesus.

Recently we’ve had some tragedies strike nearby us. A father of children my children’s age passed away unexpectedly. A friend’s baby diagnosed with trisomy 13 at her 20 week ultrasound, expected to pass away before birth. A father abandoning his family. Cancer that seems to be everywhere. I’m asking God to keep our hearts tender. Let’s fight to go deeper in sympathy and TRUST God that He will be there with us. TRUST him that the grief cannot outdo the love, that death WILL be swallowed up in the final account. The resurrection is real, friends, and all my hopes are set on it.

If you want to read about our friends whose daughter, Mercy, is diagnosed with Trisomy 13, here’s their blog. Please pray for them.