On the Outside of Suffering


I have been sitting here, staring at this page for far too long this morning. I don’t know where to begin. Words are failing me, but there is something I need get off my chest. You see, I process things with writing. This blog is largely a collection of articles about the things I am wrestling with. And for the last few weeks I’ve been struggling with something huge that I haven’t found a way to put into words.

I am struggling with how, as a Christian, I am called to live with and love those who are in the midst of suffering.

By nature, I am a fixer. I like to solve problems. I am also empathetic, and often sense and feel deeply the pain that others are going through. I wonder if this second one is part of the reason I seem to attract all sorts of odd people, who begin confessing to me five minutes after I meet them? At any rate, this combination has at times produced in me a desire to do, rather than listen; to fix, rather than support. It is something I continually struggle with, and God is teaching me some important lessons about just “being” with people, not offering advice or encouragement, just my presence.

But there are times when a person’s situation goes beyond the ordinary troubles of life that many of us encounter. They face problems that no friend or family can ‘fix’ or improve, and that no amount of ‘being present’ can comfort.

I am at a loss in such situations. I know there is nothing I can do to ease the suffering and it breaks my heart, not out of pity, but because I love and care for those who are hurting.

Perhaps this is why there are so many Psalms of lament, crying out for God’s deliverance in the face of every manifestation of fallen creation, asking God how long the righteous will suffer while wickedness, pain, and death prevail. They show that the writer is at the end of his or her rope, that desperation is all that remains.

We have friends, members of our church family, who are undergoing an extreme trial right now; a literal fight for life against cancer. The battles continue to rage, and the outlook is not positive at the moment.

As I watch the days unfold, I am struck by just how helpless we all are. We offer support, encouragement, prayers, and gifts. But they are of little value for those in the midst of pain and grief.

And yet, God has given me hope, too. Hope that our friends, like us, rest in the hands of a God who is mighty to save, and who loves us as a father loves his child.

As I continue to think about and pray for our friends, I am reminded of Psalm 121. This psalm is far from a lament, because apart from the desperation of overwhelming circumstances it sees the hope of God. And it sees this hope as something more than a future promise. In the midst of tremendous need, this psalm proclaims that hope has already broken in to the present reality; that light is actively piecing the darkness and life is overcoming death.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

It is sometimes difficult to balance hope with our present reality. It is hard to see a silver lining when the sky is filled with thunderclouds.

So what do we do, when we stand on the outside of suffering, looking in with helpless despair?

The temptation is to give up, to settle for apathy. For many of us, the default mode is to offer trite words of comfort, because we don’t know what else to do. But what if we take seriously what the Psalmist says? What if we live fully into the promises of God that he has our best interests at heart?

What if our cries of lament were to become a chorus of praise? Not praise of life’s terrible circumstances, but praise of the One who created us, who loves us, who sustains us, and who sent his Son so that we might become his children. What would that look like? What sort of hope would that offer to those without hope?

I am praying daily that God will heal our friend. I believe he can do so. And in my despair, I am choosing to give praise to God, because this situation does not change who he is, nor who we are in his eyes.

I know that he loves our friend and that she belongs to Jesus. I know that he sees her hurting. I know that he cares and is walking with her in the midst of her suffering, holding the darkness at bay, because he is the only one who can.

Though you may not know our friend, God knows her. Would you join me in praying for her today?


You alone can rescue, You alone can save
You alone can lift us from the grave
You came down to find us, led us out of death
To You alone belongs the highest praise

Come, Lord Jesus, and rescue your child from her weariness and grief. Bring healing to her body and peace to her soul. You are Creator of all things. You knit your beloved together in the womb, and you have numbered the hairs on her head. You can do all things; your power has no equal.

Where there is only death, you bring life. Where there is pain, you bring joy. Where there is despair, you bring hope. You are love!

Show your kindness and mercy to your servant, and may your glory be shown by her life.





Isaac Hopper

Isaac Hopper (PhD, Manchester) is a United Methodist Pastor serving churches in the Indiana Conference. He writes publicly about Christian discipleship, faith, and living the called life. He also writes academically about Wesleyan theology and practice.