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What I’ve Learned & Continue to Learn About Suffering 

by | May 10, 2024

Suffering. It’s not a word that evokes warm feelings or thoughts. But my own experience with suffering and the stories of suffering from those I counsel have been instrumental in the development of my faith and critical in my ability to serve others well. More often than not, the people who come through my door or through the screen on my computer have experienced some type of suffering in their lives. 

If you have read the post on my website (www.russellsemoncounseling.com) “How I Got Started?” you’ll know that my journey into serving those working cross-culturally began with my realization that I needed to revisit my understanding of my theology of suffering.

When I began serving cross-cultural workers eight years ago, I was introduced to individuals with a whole new set of challenges. Along with the joys and adventures of serving in missions, cross-cultural workers have unique experiences of grief, loss, and hardship. Through their stories along with intentional training and learning, my understanding of and theology of suffering expanded to be able to hold their experiences.

My greatest learning continues to come from the cross-cultural workers, themselves. Listening to their stories, I found that working with people through suffering isn’t necessarily a discreet skill or set of techniques to be learned and applied, with all due respect to those programs, products, and books, that would suggest otherwise. 

The most important lessons didn’t come from books or programs; they came from the workers themselves. I realized that helping people through suffering isn’t just about following a set of steps. It’s about diving into the messiness of human experience.

What really struck me is how suffering cuts to the heart of things. It clears away every distraction in life, every plan, every seemingly important upcoming event or activity, and brings the essential into sharp contrasting focus.

Suffering gives pause and rise to the questions we all have at the core of our existence and poignantly presses into our weaknesses.  

Through my work, I’ve noticed a few common themes in people’s stories of suffering:

  1. Finding Purpose and Meaning: When life gets tough, we start asking why. What’s the point of all this pain? Could anything good come out of it? What am I supposed to learn through this?
  2. Struggling with Faith: Suffering can shake our faith to its core. Is God really there? Does he really love me? Can he be trusted? How can I keep hoping when things seem so bleak? Is this his will? Why would he allow this to happen?
  3. Seeking Direction: In the midst of chaos, we crave guidance. What should I do next? Why is this happening to me? Can’t God give me a sign?
  4. Longing forComfort: When everything feels hopeless, we just want some relief. Where can I find peace? How long will this suffering last? How do I know I’ll make it through this?

 

Here are a few takeaways from my own suffering and from walking through difficulties with so many others.

  • Suffering can strengthen trust. I’m learning what it means to trust God with all my heart and to not lean on my own understanding. 
  • Don’t deny the pain. Though He’s promised to make my path straight as I trust Him, that doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t feel the pain of the suffering.  
  • God is in the seen and unseen things. Through it all, I’ve learned to trust in God’s wisdom, even when I can’t make sense of things myself. Knowing that God is in control brings me comfort. 
  • His strength is sufficient. God’s love gives me a supernatural strength to keep going, even in the darkest times.
  • He can use my weakness.  My weakness has allowed God’s grace to transform my struggles into a testimony of His faithfulness. 
  • God’s sovereignty isn’t some theological concept to grasp intellectually; it’s a living reality. And I can relate to Paul because, I, too, do not consider myself to have taken hold of all that God has intended or can provide through suffering, but I do continue to look forward with hopeful anticipation for what lies ahead. 

Suffering is a part of all of our stories––Jesus included––but it wasn’t the end of his story, and it’s not the end of ours.

by Russell Semon, LPC 

Russell is a licensed professional counselor in the state of Louisiana and provides counseling to cross-cultural workers at no cost. To find out more, visit https://www.russellsemoncounseling.com/

 

Questions For Discussion:

Which of the questions in the themes of suffering do you most resonate with?

What are some things you have learned through your own suffering or the suffering of others? What might you still have yet to learn?

What is one thing about God you intellectually believe to be true but struggle to believe with your heart?

 

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