There is much hardship in the world. That certain "been through it" look can be detected in the eyes of pain ravaged people everywhere. It is captured in Photo Journalist's depictions of starving children with their bloated bellies, or in the aftermath of national disasters and catastrophes, with people tearfully sifting through the rubble of destroyed homes. Lobbies of emergency rooms and intensive care units are places we see it often, as loved ones gather to strengthen each other and to mourn. When we share in the sorrows of another, we become a balm for the hurting soul, however slight the comfort may be.
Most recently I saw the same look in the eyes of a homeless man as he sat extending a pauper's paper cup for change. His face tried to smile, but it was as if he had forgotten how. A half raised mouth corner is all he could manage, as his brow remained scrunched and wrinkled. We want to look away, to pretend we didn't notice. It is too sad to think about; we don't want to feel that pain along with them. Yet ignoring it does not make it go away.
Until experiencing the harsh realities of life through much anguish of heart and physical pain, and deep suffering, it is difficult to fully empathize with others. Everyone at some time must pass through the dark valley of sorrow and suffering or loss. The unifying effect of sharing in the hurt of others is synergistically powerful. Jesus was moved with compassion for the hurting multitudes, saddened over the effects of sin on the world. The now cliché, "What would Jesus do?" has never been so pertinent as it is today for our responses to fellow mankind.
The earnest desire of my heart is to do whatever I can to help alleviate the hurt that many people go through. If by God's love, I can erase just one scar, salve one heart, bandage one injury, or only point someone to a better life, some of my own suffering abates. Yet what is needed most is someone to enter into the hurt with us, to come along-side and weep with us--experience it with us. No words will do.
That homeless man's response was amazing! I sat next to him on the sidewalk and we shared a candy bar. We didn't speak much at all. His eyes brightened. Someone cared. Someone was willing to stop and feel the pain and show an understanding that, no, I don't really know what you've been through. But I care. His goodbye was accompanied by a broad smile, a glimmer of hope for tomorrow.
Though I still have pain of my own, God has taught me of its benefits. The grace He gives is not to keep, but to give and to share with others. Suffering is a good teacher. It forces us to either grow, or to just break down. It teaches us of our dependence upon our loving Creator and upon one another. Once we learn of its potential: the wisdom and caring it brings, its power to unite, we no longer fear what once terrified us. Instead we reap the supernatural peace and joy that comes through relying on God for strength and comfort. He leads us through the valley of suffering that we may go back there, as escorts for our fellow man.