In times of trial, we tend to invite others’ support or embrace isolation. Shame or guilt can tempt us to suffer in silence, but the habit of humbly asking for help unlocks relationship that strengthens us in the midst of suffering. At times, we are the ones who need to invite ourselves into others’ trials. The Scriptures show us the power of offering help to those in trials, and receiving help when we experience our own.
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a difficult time. (Proverbs 17:17)
The friend, in the Book of Proverbs, is the one who offers love, not just when association with someone is profitable, but when the other person is in need. When times are most desperate, our bonds grow deeper, and we understand our interdependence more deeply. Tragically, many of us live in densely populated spaces where “crowded loneliness” is the norm. We can often find ourselves isolated by our refusal to share our struggles–sometimes because we believe most people on our social media highlights have no difficulties of their own. However, God gives us community so we do not have to go through hardships alone.
Toward the beginning of Genesis, Cain famously asks God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9), trying to deflect any responsibility he might have for the brother he has just killed. While we may not be a catalyst for another’s tragedy, we often ask whether we have a duty to look after those around us. The Scriptures answer the question with a resounding “Yes!” We are called to be responsible siblings, supporting each other in our need. The Scriptures highlight examples, both positive and negative, of how we might enter into the trials of others.
Job of the Old Testament lived a life synonymous with suffering. Satan afflicted Job with severe tragedy: the loss of loved ones, financial security, and personal health. In the midst of Job’s doubt and wrestling with God, his response to his struggles–and the more significant story they reveal–encourages readers to persevere through trials. We should also note that Job’s friends fill most of the pages of his story. Instead of offering encouragement or moral support, they seek to fix his situation by blaming him for his own demise. They are the poster-children for how to let a friend down in a trial. One of Job’s friends, Eliphaz, reasons that Job’s sin had to be the source of his current circumstance. He tries to diagnose the problem rather than sit with Job in his suffering (Job 4:7-9). A responsible sibling supports through being genuinely present, more than offering solutions. Sometimes the occasion will call for material support or counsel, but our emotional support is always needed and so should always be our first response.
Ruth gives us one of the most dynamic examples of choosing to suffer with another out of love. Her mother-in-law Naomi becomes a destitute widow when her husband, and two sons die in a foreign land–one of whom leaves Ruth a widow, as well. Naomi, destitute and grief-stricken, advises Ruth to fend for herself and find another husband. At the time, women relied on men for financial survival. Naomi plans on returning home alone, but Ruth pleads to accompany her. Even though she has just experienced a devastating loss herself, she still commits to Naomi:
But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17)
Naomi yields to Ruth’s insistence, and both of their stories are transformed in the process. Ruth courageously supports Naomi in her need. Her faith and industriousness impress the entire community. Ruth eventually remarries and gives birth to the grandfather of King David, ancestor of Jesus Christ. Ruth enters into the trials of Naomi and it literally changes the world.
Jesus himself offers a vivid picture of inviting people into personal suffering. On the night he is betrayed, Jesus bears a heavy heart. He withdraws to prepare himself for his greatest trial, and he brings others with him:
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (Matthew 26:36-38)
Jesus explicitly requests the disciples’ support as he presses into deep sorrow. In doing so, he models for us how we should endure trials: together. If the sinless Son of God leans on his friends in his time of need, shouldn’t we? Resisting the urge to suffer in silence shines light into the darkest pits of despair. The Church is meant to be a community where those who are struggling don’t have to go it alone, but for pastors, leaders, and other believers to advocate for those in need, an invitation often needs to be extended.
Even after Jesus endures the cross, his resurrection reveals the full extent of his plan in new ways. He promises his disciples, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19). He shows that he is the complete fulfillment of the friend in Proverbs: “but there is a friend who stays closer than a brother.”
He shares with his disciples that he didn’t consider them servants but friends (John 15:15). He also described the fullness of that friendship: No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13). Jesus demonstrates the fullness of friendship that loves at all times so that even when we have gaps in our earthly relationships, we still have him. He also fulfills the brother role completely:
He is also the head of the body, the church;
he is the beginning,
the firstborn from the dead,
so that he might come to have
first place in everything. (Colossians 1:18)
In Colossians, Paul describes Jesus as the head of the church and the “firstborn from the dead.” In that time, similar to now, oldest siblings were put in charge. The word “firstborn” speaks to his rank and role as the Son of Man. Because Jesus is born a man, his death on the cross, is acceptable payment for our fallenness. In this sense he is the “brother born for adversity,” enduring the harshest hardship of all time: separation from the father, and the unearned suffering of the cross.
We can look to Jesus then, not only to see how to invite people into our suffering, but also as the one who invited himself to suffer for us! tweet
Galatians 6:2 tells us to “Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Carrying the burdens of others involves identifying those struggling around you and looking for an appropriate way to be there with them. “Being there” could simply mean physical presence. It could also speak to meeting a need of some sort.
We can also look for personal growth as suffering is an unlikely gift. “One cannot suffer without becoming more sensitive to the suffering of others.” When we weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15), the experience shapes us to be more like Christ. We develop compassion and the perspective that reminds us of our responsibility to invite ourselves into the trials of others.
- Which is more challenging, inviting others into your trials or inviting yourself into the trials of others?
- How can you help by being physically present with someone instead of offering solutions?
- Who is going through a trial that you can invite yourself into?
- What is a trial you need to invite others into?
Suggested Worship Meditation:
I need you
You need me
We’re all a part of God’s body
Stand with me, Agree with me
We’re all a part of God’s body
It is his will that every need be supplied
You are important to me
I need you to survive
Hezekiah Walker, I Need You To Survive
Written by Rasool Berry
Edited by Christina Utley