“There is neither encouragement or effective exhortation in telling those who are suffering that others have suffered more, in telling those grieving that others have lost more, in telling the hungry that others have actually starved. Such spoutings produce feelings of guilt, shame, and anger—all of which are not only counterproductive but also destructive of the faith that was already only barely clinging to the altar.”—Fred Craddock, in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, ‘Hebrews,’ p 83
I had to apologize to my eldest son this morning after reading this. Sometimes being a parent is especially difficult and even though he is graduating on Saturday, I realize I am still learning and he is still teaching. Learning how to speak to our children properly and being repentant when we speak to them improperly is a humbling lesson to learn. I confess I have had to learn the lesson more than once.
What I think happens is that there are times when my son will come to me for conversation, for dialogue concerning his life. Lately, it has been mostly about his car. It breaks; a lot. And it frustrates him. It collapses entire days for him. So when he starts in about how terrible his life is because his car is broken, again, my usual response has been something like, “Jerry, it’s a car. It’s not the worst thing in the world. You want to go and see people your age who are having a difficult time?” Ugh. Worst. Response. Ever.
Worst parent ever.
So I have to learn: his suffering does matter. Is the end of the world? To me, no; to him, yes! To a teenager, the car is everything. It is their lifeline to freedom and responsibility. So I err when I am dismissive of something that, to me, seems so miniscule or minor and to him seems so major and life altering. What I have suffered is irrelevant as a means of comparison. Comparison is unnecessary in such situations because that is not what people want or need to hear. Comparison is meaningless because it ends up being like a game of one-upmanship.
People need grace. If they are weeping, weep alongside them. If they are laughing, laugh it up fuzz-ball. If they are angry, join them in anger. If they are dejected, come alongside them and sit in the ashes. I’ve always been impressed with the first seven days and nights of Job’s suffering when his friends sat with him on the ground and said nothing to him for seven days and seven nights. When someone suffers, yes there are probably others who are and have suffered more. Undoubtedly this is true. But that is irrelevant because it minimizes the suffering of the individual directly in front of me. It is dismissive and likely damages them even more. Not to mention that it also sort of cheapens the suffering of others too–those who have become mere props in our game of who has suffered more.
My role is to help them strengthen their grip, not weaken them even more.
Frankly, I don’t even think it is very nice or appropriate when preachers say things like, “You are suffering, but you have not suffered as much as Jesus.” Well, maybe; maybe not. But is that the point? Jesus didn’t say, “Father I am suffering, but I have not suffered as much as David or Job so it’s OK.” No, Jesus said, “Father, I am suffering; take this cup from me.” Even Jesus didn’t minimize his suffering by comparing it with that of others. Jesus suffered.
This is about learning to see the person directly in front of me and loving them regardless of whatever else in the world is going on today. My son’s suffering is as valid as any other person’s suffering precisely because it is he who is suffering. His suffering is not minimized because others have suffered more; his suffering is not maximized because others have suffered less. His suffering is his. And that is where we start.
Lord, forgive me for being dismissive of people who have suffered—especially my son. Teach me Lord to patiently listen to those who speak, to sit silently for as long as it takes, and when I finally speak, if asked to, to speak softly the words of your grace and mercy.
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”—Colossians 4:6
I’ll leave it up to you, the reader, to determine how grace fills our conversations.