From 1 Corinthians 1:3-7 (NLT)
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.
Death is never a pleasant conversation. Even for us, as Christians, who are blessed because we “don’t mourn like those who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 for more on this). Paul doesn’t tell us “hey, we go to Heaven so don’t be sad!” No, the inspired, written Word of God, the Bible, tells us we should mourn differently, but it doesn’t say we shouldn’t mourn at all. In fact, in the somewhat cynical and obscure wisdom poetry called “Ecclesiastes,” we’re even told that it’s better to be immersed in someone else’s sadness than to get lost in another’s celebration (Eccl 7). And the sadness Ecclesiastes is referring to…? Grief over death. In other words, get your perspective from a funeral home, not from a wedding reception hall.
I recently had the opportunity to catch up with a former colleague over a cup of coffee as she shared with me her grief over her father’s passing several months ago. We sat together at my favorite coffee shop, Lost Coffee (on Perry Street in Castle Rock), opened our Bibles (well, hers was a book version of the New King James Version, mine was the YouVersion Bible App in New Living Translation), and engaged a bunch of questions she was having. She talked, I listened. We opened the Bible and let it speak to us. I’m always amazed at how relevant the Bible is to our deepest needs.
Out of respect and discretion for her, I won’t share too many details. But I was particularly struck by two questions. Well, by one question she DID NOT ask… and another question that she DID ask. Because I think the two are related… to the point where I don’t know if we’re able to ask both questions at the same time… and I wonder if I can see a reason for it.
The question she didn’t ask was “Why me?” The question she DID ask was “What do I do with what I’ve learned?”
It’s not to say that she hasn’t asked “why me?” I think it’s a very natural question, I think it’s a very relevant question, and I think it’s an important question to ask (though, maybe not for the reason we’d think). I’m sure she’s asked it several times. I’m sure she asked it in the darkest moments of the tragedy. I’m sure she might still yet ask the question throughout her healing.
It’s just that she didn’t ask “why me” when we were together. She had reached out to me asking for time together to get a Biblical perspective on some questions she was having. She had some “why” questions, but they weren’t of the “why me” variety. In her words, she was sort of “stuck” spiritually and wanted some help getting unstuck. But the critical question she was asking (and the one that would get her “unstuck”) was “What do I do with what I’ve learned?”
THAT is one of the best questions any of us can ask when we’re trying to make sense of difficulty and tragedy in our lives. Unfortunately, “why me” often doesn’t have a good answer. Unless you or I can pinpoint some set of decisions that led us to a very specific unfortunate set of circumstances we caused for ourselves, we might not get a clear answer on this side of eternity for the “why me.” But to answer “what do I do with what I’ve learned?” Not only is there an answer to that question, the answer can get as practical as you’re willing to get with it. Ultimately, that answer is going to be some form of “help others experiencing the same thing.” Chances are, you and I are less than one or two connections away from someone nearby (or within reach) who has experienced or is experiencing the same difficulty or tragedy that you and I have faced. And they need our help. They need to know they are not alone. They need to know they can get through it. They need to know there are positive ways to handle what’s going on and there are negative ways to handle what’s going on. And they will be better served by someone who knows how they feel.
This is what Paul is getting at in his opening to his second letter to the Corinthian church. Paul has had considerable tragedy in his life and is facing profound difficulties. And yet, he sees these sufferings for more than what they are… he sees his sufferings for what they can be… chances for God to do beautiful things… and opportunities to provide comfort to others facing some of the same tragedies and difficulties. “Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation,” Paul writes. Wow! When is the last time you or I looked at our difficulties and saw them as opportunities for the comfort and salvation of others?
That’s why it is so important to move from “Why me” to “What do I do with what I learned?” Or maybe to focus the question further with “Who can I comfort with my pain?” The cynic says “Misery loves company.” Well, there’s a deeper truth to that. The Bible is filled with examples of people coming alongside others to comfort them in their sorrow. And, following Jesus’ example, we’re encouraged to do the same. Whether we’re bearing each other’s burdens (Gal 6:2) or comforting each other (1 Thes 4:18), we’re supposed to join people in their hardships and love on them. But who better to come alongside someone who is hurting than someone else who has hurt in the same way? The cynic says “misery loves company” but the follower of Jesus can say “Love is misery’s best companion.”
“Why me” isn’t a bad question, exactly. It just might not have an answer no matter how hard or how frequently you or I try to ask the question. But “what do I do with what I’ve learned?” Well… there’s not just one answer… in fact, the answers are as varied as the people you can help. And as I’ve learned through some personal tragedies of my own, I experience healing each time I come alongside someone else who has been similarly hurt. Even when I have no answers. Even when all I have is prayer. Why? No idea. But I do know it worked for Job. The Bible said that God restored Job… “when he prayed for his friends” (Job 42). Why? Again, no idea. But it worked. You might try it.
In fact, it might be time to stop praying that which might not have an answer, and instead to start being the answer to someone else’s prayers. Especially if you’re stuck.
May the God of all comfort show you how to bring comfort to others… even more, how to bring salvation to others!