Several years ago, our pastor called upon a couple in our church who were celebrating fifty years of marriage and asked, “So, what’s your secret to a good marriage?” Without hesitation, the husband said, “Realizing that we really are one.”
I’ve heard many bits of wisdom about marriage during my seventeen years in it, but that one has stuck with me. Recognizing, feeling, and knowing that my husband’s hurts, stresses, and dreams are as real as my own because we are one is a truth I need reminding of over and over again.
A similar reality confronts us as followers of Jesus in the larger Body of Christ.
Paul put it this way, “…there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (I Corinthians 12:25).”
In a day and age where our social media feeds are full of causes and issues to think about, it’s easy to take one look and dismiss a post with “That’s not my issue.” In the Body of Christ, however, this cannot be so.
Because when one suffers, we all do.
I was reminded of this recently while reading Journey to Heal, written by Crystal Sutherland. It’s her story of sexual abuse, how it impacted the trajectory of her life and the process of turning to God amid unspeakable pain. She offers deep insights, practical questions, and truth for those pursuing a continuum of healing for a wound in which scars will always remain.
I felt searing pain in my soul reading her story.
Though I have not personally experienced the pain of sexual abuse, I’ve been honored to walk with several who have. Many of you probably have too. Like every beautiful and worthy thing, it can be a challenge when we’re confronted with the reality of our own fear and pride in such a journey. In theory, we all want to minister the love of Christ to the hurting, but if we’re honest, it can be easier to shut off and shut down.
Author and priest, Henri Nouwen, once said, “Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to a place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it.”
Sadly, he’s right.
Just as a physical pain grows and is gradually felt throughout the body, so too is the suffering within the body of Christ. We must make a conscious decision to respond to it. A number of choices lie before us.
1. We can obsess about it
Raise your hand if you can attest to how dangerous diagnosing yourself on WebMD can be. I’ve talked myself into and then, out of multiple serious illnesses after such “research.” That strategy doesn’t work too well for my mental health. Nor is it a good one for the church’s spiritual health. We cannot hope to be an agent of healing by panicking in fear, relying on our own strength or by going off half-cocked and pelting another with advice that may actually hinder healing. While none of us can be an expert on every subject, we can all walk faithfully alongside one another with the help of One who is. God is fully capable of leading and guiding us in the healing process that He, Himself, started. It all begins by listening to His voice.
2. We can minimize or dismiss it
How many times does a wife tell a husband, “You ought to get that checked out?” only to hear “It’ll be fine.” That response can have disastrous consequences. Just as it has had for the church. Unfortunately, we are often guilty of minimizing the impact of sexual abuse as well as other traumatic experiences with “let bygones be bygones” or “forgive and forget” platitudes. As Crystal points out, “There are no quick fixes or simple solutions. Ultimately, healing is a journey that requires God’s help.” We must be mindful of that in order to walk patiently with another towards healing.
Or . . .
3. We can validate it and seek the Expert
With the power of the Holy Spirit, we can acknowledge even a confounding wound for what it is and do so without fear. To genuinely legitimize the pain of another is a healing gift to the soul. We can do this in a moment when someone shares their heart in social media about any topic or as part of a lengthier journey we walk side by side. No matter what opportunity God puts in front of us, it is always a beautiful one — one in which we can learn from, grow in and war over. The enemy would love nothing more than to isolate every one of us — to seal us in a coffin of fear and shame nailed shut by dissension and division. We must never let it be so.
Our response matters. It is why we must carefully consider it when faced with another’s reality that scares and confuses us. We can obsess about it. We can dismiss or minimize it. Or we can feel it acutely, validate the pain humbly and consult with the The Great Healer, expectantly.
When one suffers, we all do.
Together, we are the Bride of Christ. As the wise husband who stood up in our church said, we must recognize, “We really are one.”