Solidarity in Suffering

I don’t like going through hard times. I am not someone who would jump at the chance to endure many trials, tests, pains, griefs, and hardships. Yet there is something incredibly authentic about those times. When physically debilitated, emotionally agonized, or spiritually challenged, I find myself focused on what matters. I cut out the extraneous of life and seek out authentic companions to support me in the journey.

There was a time when I sought easy answers and quick fixes. It was just a few moments ago… Over and over again I am lulled into a trance of believing there are rapid ways to get out of life’s trying situations. One way I know I’m hurting is when I start buying books or downloading podcasts at an alarming rate. I’m hoping the author or speaker will have a solution to deliver me from my unwanted situation. It is easy to believe others, or at least an elite class of leaders, have figured out life. If “figured out” means knowing shortcuts or quick escapes, then mostly we are all still searching.

I am also tempted to over-rely on other people in difficult times. That’s not everyone else’s struggle. I know plenty of people who could reach out a lot more in crisis than they do. I am not one of them. Whether you live on Broadway, Olmos Park, Austin, Waco, Dallas, Houston or Portland, you are likely to get a call or visit from me if you’re a soul companion and my life is unsettled. While it is vitally important for me to lean into community through suffering, I am tempted to lean on community so I don’t have to lean on God. I lightheartedly told one of my closest friends, “You make a lousy god, but an incredible friend.” It was a confession of realizing I again had hoped this friend could do and be for me what only God can do and be in my life.

Yet most of my soul companions are wise enough and seasoned enough to point me to God and to faithful practices along the journey. None of them are convinced they have the answers or have to fix me. They know most of life’s problems aren’t solved, but outgrown. And these soul companions are generous with their time (patience), emotions (empathy), and with their welcoming me into their lives (hospitality).

James, the brother of Jesus, ends his letter by encouraging people who are sick with physical illness or racked with spiritual sin to call on others to journey with them. It’s pretty radical advice in any age. It certainly was in the first century. People with illnesses, deformities, economical hardships, or sins were seen as people to be avoided. The messianic community of early Jesus followers offered a radical counter-example. They not only said God valued hurting, needy, poor, and vulnerable people. The early Christ followers became a community which reached out the vulnerable and rallied around them in faith. Sin wasn’t something to sweep under the carpet, it was something to confess to spiritual companions. Hardships weren’t something to put a happy face on, but were to be shared in solidarity.

These followers of Jesus understood their coming together as the coming together of the mystical embodied presence of Jesus Christ upon the earth. They brought their limited perspectives, resources, and gifts to God and trusted God was working in and through them to do immeasurably more than could ever be accomplished apart from God’s Presence. They sought to walk the Way of Jesus together in all their imperfections, impatience, and immaturity. They were willing to risk vulnerability with one another in the belief that God met them in their weakness with life transforming power.

What areas of your life seem most vulnerable to you?
Are you more likely to over-rely or under-rely on other people in hardships?
How do you walk with God in trying times?
How have you experienced the community of faith in suffering?
What does it mean to you be the “mystical embodied presence of Jesus Christ?
How would you like to grow in believing and being the mystical embodied presence of Jesus Christ?