Honoring Invisible Suffering
I’ve finally figured out how to divide up screen time between my four children. Personal profiles that can be programmed to each of their own preferences were especially helpful. I thought it was a victory, or at least a reasonable option to help quell the fighting, and I wasn’t wrong. The seemingly simple solution did make it easier for everyone to get what they wanted, at least temporarily, but it’s obvious to me that this isn’t true peace. What I have really done is given them a well-planned way to disengage, a way to ignore what others want—a way to make the others invisible.
In an age of instant gratification, distraction comes at us from all directions; a thousand diversions sit before us, all baiting us away from the decisions that really matter.
Constant entertainment at our fingertips and a culture bowing down to false gods of convenience and independence delude us into pretending the world is not suffering. From home to home we’ve established our own custom kingdoms and are tempted to numb ourselves to the cries present to the world outside. We have convinced ourselves that our neighbor is not in pain. How far might we go to make their pain invisible?
We need to listen to the suffering of individuals with chronic illness, mental health struggles, and people still seeing the world through the lens of their trauma.
We cannot ignore the communities crying out that prejudice still exists, or the broken – in need of refuge.
When the sick are abounding and war breaks out, we are still commanded to live with radical compassion that declares to the world, “You are not invisible!”
Ralph Ellison wrote,
“I am an invisible man…I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”
The loneliness in these words cuts me to my core, because I know he is not the only one to have felt the reality of being invisible. Yet if I am honest, in my weaker moments, there are actual human beings I often wish were not in my way: the woman who twists my words, the homeless man who always wants something from me, or the co-worker who decided they were well enough to come to work even though they look like they should be at the hospital. In no way do I wish these people were dead or gone, but if given the option, I might be tempted to mute/block/hide them from my life as easily as I can take those actions online.
The truth is there are days when I voluntarily refuse to see.
There are days I forget that as a Christian it is my calling and honor to give love away to those who are suffering, even when it costs me. From the point of humanity’s fall, sacrifice has always been a necessary component of love. I want to give time, money, and energy away to others so that love pours from me as an offering to my Savior.
I’m appointed to seek out unseen suffering, because above all my pleasures in life I want it to be known— it is Jesus I see.
There are few places in the Bible that we are exhorted to outdo others, but in Romans 12:10 Paul says,
“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
The beauty in honoring others is indisputable, though we forget that we honor others by seeking to understand their troubles. We may not want to add suffering to our calendars, but it seems to be able to make time for us all.
What a disservice we do to other image-bearers when we turn away from caring for them because we don’t want to see.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said,
“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
It astounds me that we have still not figured out how to put this wisdom to action, but it doesn’t mean we give up. We can learn to give up false comfort for the comfort spoken about in 2 Corinthians 1:3-5,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”
When we learn to live with eyes wide open to the realities of pain and the deeper truth of the redemption Christ has brought into our broken world, we become the comforting congregation who can love as we have been loved.
We become those who honor the suffering others are experiencing, not by ignoring it but by engaging the invisible, assuring them: they are seen, and comforting them with the visible love of Jesus.
Chara Donahue is the co-author of multiple Experiencing Growth Bible Studies and is working on her next book. She enjoys serving as a biblical counselor, speaking to women, and writing and editing Anchored Voices. She holds an MSEd from Corban University and is passionate about seeing people set free through God’s truths. Get in touch with her on Facebook or Twitter.