This is a short one, but that’s fine. Right? Right.
According to an online dictionary, the definition of suffer as a intransitive verb is to endure death, pain, or distress, as well as to sustain loss or damage. As a transitive verb the definition is to submit to or be forced to endure, to feel keenly, labor under, undergo, experience, put up with especially as inevitable or unavoidable.
There are many things I have been blessed to not go through in life, and there are things I have been through that I look back on and cringe at. But for some reason, no matter what I’ve gone through, I never considered suffering to be a part of the equation. Suffering is what people in worse situations do, what whiners do, what selfless martyrs do, not what I do. I always relate the word to the process of dying, not for the person dying but for those that are in their lives that love them or have to watch. Yet, for some reason, the horrible and horrific things that others go through personally that I can’t imagine are things that I feel the word suffering is too weak for. They go through seriously painful, bone tearing things and I don’t think suffering describes it well enough. But apparently it does.
Suffering is a weird concept for me because when it comes down to it I think we are all suffering all the time. Some go through real hardships that change their lives in the wink of a frog, but some have things that they are forced to endure for long amounts of time that shape their lives slowly, like a river to the land.
David had a house full of suffering when his baby died. In 2 Samuel it tells the story of how not only he was struck with the heartache and grief of losing a child, but his new wife was too. And she was most likely a hot mess considering he had just taken her off her roof to have sex with her then killed her husband to cover the fact that she had gotten pregnant and now the child was dead. Not to mention that the child had to go through (I think) a week of being sick and dying before he actually died. That is the kind of situation that strikes quickly and leaves suffering in it’s wake.
But I think that we all suffer in our own ways each day, on the other side of the spectrum. Maybe someone’s boss is verbally abrasive. Maybe a family is full of turmoil. Maybe a best friend is hooked on drugs. Maybe someone is illiterate. Maybe someone feels lonely. These are all things that we endure and experience, things that fit under the definition of suffering.
And the bible has words for each aching heart, each suffering soul.
“The godless in heart harbor resentment;
even when he fetters them, they do not cry for help.
They die in their youth,
among male prostitutes of the shrines.
But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering;
he speaks to them in their affliction.
He is wooing you from the jaws of distress
to a spacious place free from restriction,
to the comfort of your table laden with choice food. ” – Job 36:13-16
So maybe some of this is my fight against myself to prove that what feels to me like suffering that I refuse to think of as suffering (because suffering is worse than my pathetic problems) is actually valid suffering. Also, through the past two weeks of thinking and talking about suffering this part of the concept hasn’t been breached to my knowledge. Maybe by broadening the term we can give comfort to those who are suffering in the hard cases and those who feel like they are in constant struggles. Both sides will feel drained, and we should spoon feed them the Word and chicken noodle soup.