Cynthia B Eriksson starts her article Suffering With: A Tender Journey of Mutuality in Suffering, Comfort, and Joy with words that capture the experience of people who walk through pain with other people:
“Friends, this is a challenging journey.
The call to “suffer with” in the role of pastor, therapist, counselor, or chaplain is one that holds great joy and great sorrow. You have seen the best and the worst of people. The really difficult thing (that likely no one warned you about) is that you cannot go back. You cannot un-hear the stories that you have heard. You cannot un-know the types of evil and abuse that have been perpetrated on people dear to you. You cannot un-see the images of destruction, violence, or mutilation that have been in your gaze. You hold the reality of human life and human pain in your heart.”
She then unpacks the importance of acknowledging and addressing the pain we take on as we are with people in those difficult times.
This is a deep, reflective, essay. She first talks about the cost of suffering with. She talks about the skills of suffering with. She asks us questions to assess our own capacity to care for ourselves.
As you reflect on the skills and resources you have developed to support the call of suffering with, ask yourself these questions:
- What rhythms of rest and work have you found to sustain yourself?
- What spiritual practices have you adopted to root your very self into the foundation of Christ’s love?
- What friends and colleagues have opened their hearts and ears to your cries of lament and doubt?
- What resources have you discovered that name the pain in language that helps you know you are not crazy?
- What habits do you have to draw you out of rumination?
- Now ask yourself, am I practicing these?
Her essay ends with the joy of suffering.
Pour coffee. Turn off the phone. Walk through this reflection. Find healing.