Welcome to the 8th post in our Love Series!
I write as someone who desires to grow in love and sometimes falls short and needs forgiveness.
We experience God’s love when we listen to another person’s story. With current events, we especially need to listen to each other.
We can’t listen to everyone’s story, but we can listen to one person. (This assumes you have the bandwidth to listen.)
When we listen to another person’s story, we say, “You matter; your story matters.”
We love because God first loved us.
(ALERT: no graphic details but the story I share may be triggering for those who have suffered rape.)
Over twenty-plus years ago, a classmate and I sat on a sofa in her apartment. My eyes widened as she spoke.
During her first year of college, she attended a fraternity party where unknown to her, the fraternity had spiked drinks with a powerful drug.
The pit in my stomach grew as she told me what happened that night and the next day. I didn’t know what to say. Whenever I think of her, I pray for her.
What struck me (besides the horror of what she’d suffered) was how she needed someone to listen because she told me although we weren’t close friends.
What does love do when confronted with suffering?
In June 2016, I read Jonalyn Fincher’s post: “Does Jesus want Christians to Forget about Abuse?”
It’s the ones who talk about what happened that get better. . . .we need to know how to listen. . . . For what most survivors need is to see us become their community of suffering (Phil 2). They need us to become the fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers to listen and value their stories. Jonalyn Fincher
Her words: “what most survivors need is to see us become their community of suffering (Phil. 2)…to listen and value their stories” struck me.
I thought of friends who have suffered sexual abuse or less dramatic wounds but also deeply wounding, such as betrayal, or being abandoned by a parent through divorce, death, or a parent’s busyness. I thought of those suffering from loneliness.
These wounds testify to how the world is not as God intended.
Over the years, I’ve heard people quote Paul in Philippians 3:13(*) to say you just need to forget your past.
I disagree with such an interpretation for theological reasons and because it doesn’t track with how trauma affects our brains and our bodies (as shown by research, for example, see Parenting From the Inside Out by Dr. Daniel Siegel and How We Love by Milan and Kay Yerkovich).
A “just forget what happened in the past,” approach heaps more pain and shame on an abuse victim who can’t “forget,” and it doesn’t aid healing.
Plus, a “just forget your past, meaning act as if it never happened,” misrepresents God’s heart and desire for that person’s healing and wholeness.
You don’t wallow in the past, of course, but you also don’t live in denial.
God can’t heal what we don’t admit is real (i.e., what happened).
If you don’t deal with your past then it will continue to unconsciously control you. (I know; I write about it in A Guide to 7 Days of Soul Care, coming in early November, if there are no more printing glitches.)
Christ’s unjust suffering and his resurrection allow him to be with us in our suffering and give us hope of new life. 1 Peter 3:18Christ suffers alongside every abused toddler, child, teenager, young adult, adult, middle-aged, and elderly person who is suffering.
Christ suffers not only for our sins but for the sins committed against us.
Christ in me allows me to sit and share a little of my friend’s pain by listening to her share her story as we sit side by side.
I can’t change what happened—though I desperately wish I could.
But I can bring Christ’s presence in me and my own presence to sit with her and testify to her suffering.
I can let her know she is not alone.
God has comforted me so I can comfort her even if the cause of our suffering differs (2 Corin. 1:3-4).
Later, there may be time and opportunity to help in more tangible ways but it’s usually best to first listen.
Even when a person can’t sit with us, God always sits with us in our pain (regardless of its cause).
- How has someone loved you enough to sit and listen to you in your suffering?
- How have you loved someone by being part of his or her community of suffering?
May God show us how we can be a community of suffering to those who are suffering.
And if you’re suffering now, I pray God will provide such a community for you.
If you doubt rape or sexual assault is a real problem, check out #NotOkay @KellyOxford’s timeline.
Check out these free resources at Milan and Kay Yerkovich’s site howwelove.com.
I printed out their Soul Words/Feelings List and our family has been practicing using “I feel…” statements. I also printed out their Journaling Awareness Worksheet.
(*) If you read Phil. 3:13 in context (all of Phil. 3), Paul says what he used to consider as important or what he based his identity on (e.g., his ethnicity and his religious works, see Phil. 3:5-6) is in the past. He no longer bases his identity on what he relied on in the past but now he finds his identity in Christ, in knowing Christ (v. 7-12, 14).
The issue is Paul’s identity in Christ and not on forgetting everything that happened in the past (which is impossible but we can live more and more in freedom from our past, by God’s grace).
This post answers reader/friend “Mary’s” question about how one can experience God. Sharing in another’s suffering helps us experience God because God suffers with us.
This will either be the last post in our Love Series or the second-to-the-last post. Thanks for reading!
Linking with encouraging Holley Gerth