By WALTER ALBRITTON
Weeping for others is a common experience. When Jeremiah wept for his people, his cry for help was not unlike the anguish we all feel when confronted with the suffering of loved ones: “My grief is beyond healing; my heart is broken. Listen to the weeping of my people; it can be heard all across the land. … I weep for the hurt of my people. I am stunned and silent, mute with grief” (Jeremiah 8).
Jesus has such compassion for the sick that he healed many of them. On one occasion he showed remarkable kindness to a deaf man who could not speak: “A deaf man with a speech impediment was brought to him, and the people begged Jesus to lay his hands on the man to heal him. Jesus led him to a private place away from the crowd. He put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then, spitting onto his own fingers, he touched the man’s tongue with the spittle. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and commanded, ‘Be opened!’ Instantly the man could hear perfectly and speak plainly!” (Mark 7:31-37).
Not wanting to embarrass the man, Jesus took him aside. What beautiful compassion! He did not want the poor man to feel humiliated in the presence of curious onlookers, in the same way doctors help the sick in privacy. But some of them do not get well; they suffer and die. Caregivers suffer too because it hurts to see others suffer.
What are we to do with the feelings that overwhelm us when our family and friends are suffering? One option is to stifle your compassion. Become stoic and refuse to get emotionally involved. You can grit your teeth and refuse to love so you won’t be hurt.
Thankfully, there is a better option. You can seize the moment and care deeply for hurting people and help them make the most of every day until life is over. You can make a difference because you have something to offer that is more important than medicine. Solomon expressed it well: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22). A cheerful spirit is a great gift to the sick and dying.
Since we cannot prevent suffering or death, we must not slack from doing what we can. We can offer compassion and leave the rest to God. He is in charge of life and death. It is not within our power to keep people alive indefinitely. Death is a natural part of life, and there are mysteries too complex for our finite minds. As we care for others, there are valuable lessons to be learned.
Suffering is a great teacher. It teaches us to value every waking moment. I was brash and carefree until our son David was diagnosed with leukemia. Then my real education began. I realized what pain doctors and nurses endure in serving others. Dr. T. Fort Bridges and his staff were gracious, caring people; they hurt with us during David’s nine-month battle with leukemia.
Our crash course in suffering culminated the morning Dr. Nels Ferre took us in his arms and said, “God hurts like you hurt.” Then, that good man lifted the dead body of our son off the bed and asked the Lord to receive his soul. In that holy moment, we knew God was with us.
Years later, my wife almost died from a lung disease. Suddenly she was better. The doctor had no explanation. My wife complained that it was hot and stuffy in her hospital room. Then a cool breeze came into the room. She said, “I felt a presence. I looked around but could see no one. But I felt someone was in the room. Then, all of a sudden, I felt well.” The doctor confirmed her wellness the next morning and dismissed her. As you care for others, sometimes Christ will seem so present that you can feel his hand on your shoulder.
Gentleness and kindness are invaluable when you are suffering. When I almost died because of a blood clot, I remembered Paul’s words: “The time of my departure is at hand.” I thought my time was up. But doctors and nurses gave me hope by treating me with kindness.
As you care for a suffering friend or relative, offer every ounce of kindness you possess and trust Jesus to refill the reservoir within you. The more compassion you give away, the more He will restore your supply. When you shed tears, remember that Jesus was acquainted with grief. Offer your tears to him, for he can turn your tears into the wine of joy. Remember you are made in the image of the God who hurts like you hurt. Pain is part of his plan for shaping you into a compassionate servant.
James reminds us that life is but a shadow, like a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes. While you have life, and weep for others, offer them compassion with a cheerful spirit and leave the rest to God.