Denver Seminary

Engage Magazine Fall 2017

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ENGAGE 21 and empathy is that our friend must enter into the sorrow as well. Parents of a sick child know the pain of sitting with the afflicted. By no means is it the same type or degree of pain, but companioning the wounded is a choice to permit their pain to enter your own heart as well. This act of empathy is difficult for another reason: it can be thankless. Pain brings a brutal focus on the present moment. It has an uncanny way of cranking up the dial on our selfishness, maximizing our egoism. The pain preoccupies us, coloring every part of our experience. It may be nearly impossible in a distressing season for a wounded person to respond to compassion with gratitude. This numb response to our emotional investment can feel like a slap in the face. No wonder we have the adage "Hurt people hurt people." Walking with the suffering person not only means that we'll carry some of their hurt with them; it may mean that we'll also carry hurt from them. It's painful to help the pain-full. In an interview at Biola, Gerald Sittser remarked that believers "belong to a community of mourning that goes back thousands of years." We need others in this community to enter our suffering, and they will need us to enter into theirs. He goes on to say that suffering isn't something you can escape or avoid, but that "you grow into it and begin to wear it. You don't get through it, you absorb it." That community, who gathers every week to remember another man's suffering on the cross, helps this process. Suffering wounds, but it also refines the afflicted and their companions. The crucible can reorganize our conceptualizations and contribute to meaning making. Glacial grinding deepens the soul. It strikes us as odd to hear people express some version of "I wouldn't trade away that horrible experience," yet it's a common conclusion. Distressing pain and significant growth are often found in adjacent chapters of a biography. Few people engage in the muddy mess of actually climbing down into the pain with their afflicted friends. Don Payne speaks to this in his spiritual formation classes at Denver Seminary. He tells students, "I don't want loss to be lost on me. I don't want to suffer the pain and yet miss how God intended it for good." Suffering can be formative, but it's hard to imagine the merits of these experiences while experiencing them. It may do more harm than good to speak of the end while in the middle. Even the perspective which future hindsight might offer won't comfort the pain today. In the midst of darkness, it's often a friend's faithful presence, not their advice, which comforts. It's a community drawing near to weep with those who weep. When we awake in a dark wood, we don't want to be alone. May you find friends who draw near when you face suffering, and may you draw near to them when they encounter loss. Dante appreciated Virgil, and I'm sure Jesus appreciated John's presence at the cross. When you face a Good Friday, may you have companions to walk with you until Easter morning. Shenki/iStock Asa Crow STUDENT LIFE COORDINATOR AND CHAPEL DIRECTOR Asa Crow is the student life coordinator and chapel director at Denver Seminary. He also serves as a life coach and missions consultant in his spare time. In each of these roles, he counts it a privilege to serve ministers as they serve others for the sake of the gospel. AtipatChantarak/iStock

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