I hate half-finished projects. Incompleteness drives me insane. I would rather see a pile of unfolded laundry in the basket than half the laundry folded and the other half laying on the floor. It bothers me when all the housework isn’t finished in one day—I want to be able to wake up the next morning, swing my feet over the side of the bed, and feel the complete cleanness of my home. It grits my nerves to drive through a town and see a house half painted. Something about a project that is unfinished and that I can’t fix almost makes my skin crawl.
At times, this peculiar itch of mine translates into my relationships. To see someone I love in pain and know I can’t erase it—that bothers me. To see the cloud of depression hang over a dear one and know I can’t simply blow it away—that aches in me. To see a friend wading through anxiety and know I can’t pull them out—that drives me crazy. To hold my crying baby and know my presence can’t take away the ache of teething in his jaws—that makes me want to cry along with him.
It hurts when someone we love is hurting, and we hate that we can’t stop their suffering. We love them, and we wish we could simply sweep away their pain, collect it in a dustpan, and chuck it out the door. But we were never meant to do that. Even our most faithful prayers may not make the pain disappear. We were not created to be healers. We are meant to be a part of the body. As a fellow part of the body, I am not meant to fix another. I’m not able. I can’t take away that pain, and to believe I can actually minimizes their suffering.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians,
“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:21-26 ESV).
When one member of the body of Christ is weakened in suffering, the rest of the body is weakened as well. Our role isn’t too fix one another, but to suffer alongside one another and carry one another. I can’t take away the teething pain of my son, but I can hold him close, I can cuddle him, I can offer a sort of pain reliever, I can buy him a teething ring to chew on, but in the end this is pain he needs to feel in order for his teeth to come in.
In the body of Christ, suffering is inevitable, and sometimes it is necessary for our purification and growth (John 15:1-11; 1 Peter 1:6-7; Romans 8:28-30; Hebrews 12:4-12). God is the one who orchestrates that pain and suffering in a way that glorifies him and strengthens the body; he decides when the pain must increase and when it should be silenced. In our short-sighted compassion, we want to take away the pain, the waiting, and the suffering of those we love. But we must learn to trust our sovereign and wise God with how he is at work.
What we can do, what we are created and called to do, is to suffer together and rejoice together. To hold the unsteady, to weep with the grieving, to carry the broken. Maybe it’s reading Scripture to your anxious friend. Maybe it’s crying with your spouse. Maybe it’s praying with your child. Whatever the case, let’s learn to suffer well together, rather than frustrating ourselves and others by trying to fix something we were never meant to fix.