I asked her about her illness, her pain, her suffering. She told me what she was going through, the difficulties she had already faced, and the rough road that lay ahead. She described the lingering pain, the powerful pills, the ugly side-effects, the inability to live normal life. Then she said, almost apologetically, “But I know other people have suffered so much more.” I spoke to him about his marriage and the severe trials he had endured at the hand of his wife. We spoke of his pain as he watched his marriage dissolve around him, his struggles with shame, his temptation toward bitterness. And he said it too: “But I know others have had it so much worse.”
This is our temptation in suffering, to compare it to what others have endured and to downplay our suffering in relation to theirs. “I can’t possibly complain when he has endured that much while I’ve only endured this much.” “Yes, it has been difficult, but then I think of what that other person has endured, and then who am I to complain…”
This isn’t entirely wrong, is it? Stubbing my toe doesn’t earn me the right to commiserate with someone who has lost a leg. Losing my dog doesn’t equate to losing a child. But that’s not the same as saying those things don’t matter or that they aren’t genuinely painful. That’s not the same as saying those things don’t comprise true suffering. And that’s certainly not the same as saying those things don’t matter to God.
It is in times of pain and turmoil, whether light, moderate, or severe, that it becomes especially important to remember that we relate to God as children to their father. A loving father does not demand agonizing misery before he will express heartfelt sympathy, but sympathizes with every pain and wipes away every tear. A loving parent does not demand a child’s pain grow more severe than that of his siblings before he takes him in his arms, but immediately sweeps him onto his knee with words of comfort and hands of mercy. Why would we think any less of God?
Our God is not some distant ruler exercising indifferent authority over the universe but a present helper in our times of trouble — our every time of trouble. He does not demand that we justify our pains before feeling them or rationalize our tears before shedding them. He is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). He does not insist our trouble rise to a certain degree or extent before he becomes that refuge and strength. He is at all times and in every situation “the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3).
In your illness, in your pain, in your suffering, don’t immediately compare yourself to others, and don’t feel the need to justify your sorrow before God. Don’t wallow silently and stoically. Turn first to your Father, cry out to him, and receive his comfort.