Too often in my office, I hear a very familiar story. You've finally worked up the courage to talk to someone you love and respect about how you're really doing. In a brave act of vulnerability, you talk about how your deep sadness or numbness has made even the smallest acts, like getting out of bed, incredibly difficult. Maybe you finally told someone about how debilitating your worries are lately and how confusing and exhausting your thought-life has become. Despite the fear of being judged or perceived incorrectly, you spoke up and shared, and you were met with this:
"Find your joy in the Lord." "Ask God to take away your worries." "I knew someone who felt like you and they started praying and reading their bible more and then they felt better." "I think you just need to have a better relationship with God."
Oh, friend. I hear you. I see you. And I'm sorry. I'm sorry that your vulnerability was met with dismissive, trite words. I'm sorry that you were told that suffering is indicative of a poor relationship with God. I'm sorry that instead of hearing and entering into pain, confusion, and messiness with you, someone instead tried to put a pretty bow on your experience and send you off with a prayer card. I'm sorry you did not experience Jesus through your friends and confidants.
Here is what I wish you would have heard: "Tell me more about how you're feeling." "Thank you for trusting me enough to share your true thoughts with me." "Help me understand what it's like in your head right now." "This world is full of devastating pain and suffering, isn't it?" "How can I support and love you well through this process?" "I've been there, too. We'll get through this together."
Too often, I think, we as Christians forget that we were meant to share each other's burdens. That we were meant to experience suffering as a group, rather than as an individual. Too often, someone else's pain is so deep, confusing, and unfathomable that instead of entering into that place of unknown with that person, we become panicked by our lack of answers. We become like Job's friends, who were well-intentioned, but also completely missed Job and his current experience in their search for the "why" of his suffering. We become like Jesus' friends in the Garden of Gethsemane who fell asleep while their friend was so deep in anguish that he sweat blood.
To my friends who have experienced this deep disappointment of being dismissed or not fully heard, please know that this was not the right way to respond to your suffering. That your pain is deep and complex and requires time and space to fully understand. That this is not how Jesus would have responded to you. My hope is that the next time (and, with all my heart, please let there be a next time) that you are met with validation, more questions, and solidarity. My hope is that next time, you will meet encounter a friend who can say "me too" and you can be sojourners together. My hope is that you can experience Christian community they way it was intended.
To my friends who are not currently in the midst of suffering, but know someone who is, please be curious. Please take the time to crawl into the messiness with someone and ask them to describe the place they've been living in lately. Seek to know the walls, the shadows, and the landscape of your friend's pain. Enter into that room, but also step out of it, and offer words of hope that there's a world outside. In short, be Jesus to one another and "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ."