When You Don’t Understand Their Pain

I know well the sound of shoes striking pavement. My summer mornings were spent before the sun came up on a lonely country road, catching up with the teammates who ran off before me. Each practice I trusted that the coaches who periodically joined me on that lonely road were good and trustworthy.

Winters brought a similar story, but different setting. Swim team locker rooms, late bus rides from swim meets, and overnight sleepovers at our school filled these days.

Amidst it all, I was safe. In every practice, on every run. 

It wasn’t until another run, beneath the rooms that held my three napping children, that I realized how much of my story was not guaranteed. My eyes were fixed on the TV as I pounded the treadmill and listened to Rachael Denhollander’s testimony of sexual abuse at the hands of her trusted athletic doctor.

I wept. I grieved. And I feared for those three babies sleeping upstairs.

WHAT I DIDN’T KNOW

That afternoon as I watched testimony after testimony, I was struck by all I didn’t know. 

I didn’t know abuse could be so easy. I didn’t know how easily it could go unchecked. I didn’t know there were could be so many. 

Recently, while reading Rachael’s memoir, What Is a Girl Worth?, I found myself reminded of my further ignorance. Rachael takes no subtle approach to sharing both the internal and external pressures victims of abuse go through. And as I read through her heartbreaking account, I realized my lack of knowledge had kept me blinded from the reality that many of my brothers and sisters are currently living through. 

SUFFERING AND THE BODY OF CHRIST

We will all experience suffering in our lives, yet we will experience this in a variety of ways. Some live through the effects of abuse, some through chronic illness, or some suffer through situations with their children, tragic deaths, or struggles with infertility. The effects of the Fall are broad and reverberate deeply through painful natural difficulties or through violent trauma against us. 

As we daily bear up these burdens, we do so with the ultimate Comforter. We fellowship with Christ who suffered, and who can comfort our weary hearts. Yet we are also given additional help—our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.

Paul reminds us that we are comforted by Christ in our troubles so that we can then comfort one another (2 Cor. 1:3). Some of my greatest blessings were moments when I could tell a fellow sister, “I’ve been through that, too. I know how to pray for you. I know how to help.”

The body of Christ is precisely that—a body. It’s interconnected, cares for, builds up, and serves each other, especially while it suffers. 

But what if we don’t know that suffering? What if, like me, the authority figures in our lives haven’t abused their power? What if we have no idea what the hurdles are involved in bringing a case to court? What if we don’t understand the complexities of foster care, miscarriage, abusive marriages, or a host of other situations?

Because our suffering will look so different, many of us won’t know these answers, but as members of a body—with those hurting right next to us—we are still called to comfort and to serve our siblings. And God has not left us without the means to do the task. 

LISTEN AND LEARN

One of the harder to read sections of Rachael’s memoir had to do with many in their church family who remained silent during the difficult battle of filing charges against her abuser. At a loss for how to help in a difficult and foreign situation, many resorted to silence, and the toll it took was painful. (She does note that many were helpful after they moved churches. 

I found myself thinking about the people in my own church family with difficult struggles. Have I stayed silent for fear of what I don’t understand? 

While we may not know the best course of action, God has given us the means to listen. Proverbs tells us that the wise will hear and increase in learning (Prov. 1:5), and that we should make our ear attentive to wisdom and incline our hearts to understanding (Prov. 2:2). Even though we may not understand the experiences of our brothers and sisters, we can enter into their pain by listening. 

In some cases, those close to us may not be able to talk. But we can use our ears to listen in other ways to bless our brothers and sisters when they are ready. Ever since the printing press was first created, we’ve been blessed with the mass availability of stories. Despite its drawbacks, the rise of social media and the internet has given us even more of an opportunity to listen.  

We can find articles, podcasts, and books of the stories of those who suffered through experiences far removed from our own. We can read stories from survivors of child abuse or learn the difficult emotions and trials involved in foster care. We can hear the secret cries of those who have struggled through painful miscarriages or infertility, and we can learn about the wrenching details of the uphill battle that sexual abuse survivors face as they work through their own trauma. 

We can read, and we can listen. 

SPEAK

After we listen, we can use our mouths to pray for friends and our fellow believers. Instead of vague requests, we can get a deeper look at what our fellow sufferers need and petition God on their behalf.

Perhaps we can speak deeper words of encouragement once we’ve grown in our understanding of the battle that they face, and in turn, we can share what we’ve learned to help others see past the assumptions and misinformation fed by the culture around us.  

We can open our mouths with wisdom on how to better protect the body, and how to best build it up in each of these unique situations.

Our brothers and sisters suffering in often hidden silence, need us to listen, if not to them, to those who advocate for them.

CHRIST OUR COMFORTER

Of course, we won’t ever be able to know it all. We must humbly enter into service with our brothers and sisters. We don’t approach them as projects to master and fix. We can approach them with humility, eager to hear how we can help.  

We will fail at times, but we can pray in the ways we know how-knowing that the Holy Spirit will help us in our weaknesses (Rom. 8:26), and that God is working his redemption amidst our failures. 

That day on the treadmill, my eyes were opened to all I didn’t know. Maybe we all need that jolt. We won’t be able to learn about every experience, but maybe there are some steps we can take to dive deeper into understanding today.  

Instead of skipping that book, podcast, or article because it doesn’t apply to you, dig in and grow in your understanding. Don’t do it because it’s trending on Twitter or to prove your own political points, though. Do it for the edification and service of Christ’s church. 

As much as those in the pews next to us act as if all is going well on Sundays, many of them are suffering just below the surface. Let’s keep taking steps to listen to those who suffer and to comfort them as our Lord has comforted us.

The members of our body are crying out. It’s time we listen.


Brianna Lambert is a wife and mom to three, making their home in the cornfields of Indiana. She loves using writing to work out the truths God is teaching her each day. She is a staff writer with GCD and has contributed to various online publications, such as Morning by Morning and Fathom magazine. You can find more of her writing paired with her husband’s photography at lookingtotheharvest.com.