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How Should We Respond To The Suffering of Others?

My Mother grew up in East Tennessee in a single-parent household of three – my Mom, her younger sister, and their Mother (my Grandma). They didn’t have much, but my Grandma did all that she could to raise her daughters to succeed in life. The sisters grew up in Johnson City, TN and later attended East Tennessee State University – an accomplishment they would both likely attribute to their Mother’s investment in their lives.

My Mother later moved to Charlotte, while her sister (my Aunt) eventually settled in Georgia. My Grandma relocated with my Aunt, while my Mother remained in Charlotte, met my Dad, and had their first child: a daughter, who happens to be my older sister (She’s alright, I guess).

About three years later, I had the privilege of being born. The year was 1983. Historians say that it may have been the finest year known to mankind…OK, maybe that’s a little bit of a stretch, but I think it was a pretty awesome time in human history: I was born (obviously) and U2’s album “War” was released…It doesn’t get much more amazing than that.

Growing up, holidays, beach trips, and birthdays were regular visits with Grandma. When they were apart, my Mother would remain in contact over the phone, constantly staying updated on the happenings of life. Those days, I would see the little girl in my Mom re-awaken…It’s so easy to forget that our parents were once little boys and girls.

Life is often too painful to understand, too fragile to put into words. Sunshine often finds residence in the summertime. So do hurricanes. The beautiful and the broken collide, all in the same season.

My Grandma suffered multiple strokes throughout my teenage years, leaving her to rely heavily upon my Aunt and my Mother. And yet, regardless of how difficult those years were, they still had each other.

I was living in Los Angeles when I got the call that my Grandma had passed away. The funeral would be held in Charlotte, leading me to the airport for a long, heavy flight East.

Some moments in life haunt us forever. For me, one of those moments was when my Mom watched her Mother being lowered to her final earthly resting place. I was standing by her side – holding her – watching her cry as she reached after her Mother…My heart was sick.

What do you do when life shatters those you love like a million pieces of glass?

All I could think to do was hold my Mom, love her, and remind her that all her special memories with her Mother can never be taken away…Was it the best response? Probably not. Was it a moment she needed me to simply be with her? I believe so. One thing I do know: my Mother hugged me back, she was safe to mourn with me, and she allowed herself to be her Mother’s little girl once more.

When tragedy and life collide – especially to those we love – what if our first response is to simply be with them in the darkness of suffering?

U2’s 1984 album called “The Unforgettable Fire” is my favorite of all time, filled with songs of hope, mystery, and heartache. One particular song stands out, titled “Bad”. Enriched with beauty, pain, and hope, a simple verse stands out above the others:

“If I could through myself

Set your spirit free

I’d lead your heart away

See you break, break away

Into the light

And to the day”

U2, “Bad” 

It’s often in the darkest moments of life that we encounter a glimpse of God’s heartache when we suffer. When we show compassion for those hurting by the wreckage of life, a thought will likely cross your mind: it was never supposed to be this way. Our sin brought death and the fall, leaving us with the reality of pain, suffering, and heartache. And yet…The Father invites us to rest in His arms, to breathe in His life, and to find healing in His wounds.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8

Think about something for a moment: If the Scriptures are true, God’s heart shattered so greatly for you and I that He came to meet us in our darkest hour…If the God of eternity would humble Himself to meet fallen humanity in our need, should we not do the same for those around us?

Do you know someone who is suffering? Be willing to meet them where they are, even in silence.

Has the pain of life left someone in your life feeling suffocated? Be a breath of fresh air that speaks words of healing.

Is someone overwhelmed by feelings of loss? Embrace them with arms that remind them that they still matter.

Maybe there’s more that can be done and more to say. Maybe you have the answer for those who are suffering, whether that is through your generosity, encouragement, or a listening ear. Let us be a generation willing to meet others in the darkness with a warm embrace and an open heart.