Relating well to those who are suffering 11am, 12th December 2004 by sdfsb346f


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									Relating well to those who are suffering: 11am, 12th December 2004
2 Corinthians 1:3-7

We‟re coming towards the end of a series we‟ve been running called „Relating
well‟. We‟ve been looking at various relationships we have and trying to
establish biblical principles for making those relationships work well. It‟s been
a very practical series, and as ever you can get hold of the talks on CD from
the church office. Next week Carl will be finishing the series when he talks
about „relating well to those who are different from us‟. This morning my
subject is „relating well to those who are suffering‟.

I don‟t remember exactly when we planned who was going to be preaching
each week of this series, but I do know that I didn‟t have as much raw material
to reflect on in this subject then as I do now. To be honest I haven‟t been
looking forward to giving this talk – but I can see that in some way it is
probably in God‟s plan that I do. So over the next few minutes I‟m going to talk
a little bit about our recent experience as a family; then I‟m going to look at
what the Bible passage has to say; then I‟m going to come back to a more
personal perspective and talk about what I have learned about relating well to
those who are suffering from our own experience of suffering this year.

Our experience
Many of you will know something of what our family has experienced this

Back in April, Jacqui‟s Mum, Sue, started having some headaches. At first she
thought it was nothing, but then she started getting some double vision, so
she want to see her doctor. The doctor sent her for some tests, and she
ended up waiting around in a hospital bed for several weeks. All this time she
appeared to be getting worse. She was beginning to lose the sight in one eye,
and eventually did lose it altogether. The medics at Leicester Infirmary, where
she was, thought that all of this was being caused by an infection in the
pituitary gland, which was causing it to swell and press on the optic nerve.
She was given drugs to treat the infection, but even when her condition didn‟t
improve her doctors were very casual about the whole thing.

At this time she seemed to get caught up in some inter-hospital politics
between Leicester Infirmary and Queen‟s Medical Centre in Nottingham,
where there were other doctors with more experience in this area. She was
told she was to be transferred, given several dates which came and went.
Eventually she was transferred, and given a biopsy. Shortly after, in June,
Jacqui was visiting Sue in hospital when an oncologist walked into the room
and said, very casually, “Well, looks like it‟s cancer.” Jacqui then had to drive
to her parents house to break this news to her Father, David.

We were told that tumours on the pituitary gland are always secondaries, so
then began a search for the primary. At this point we were fearing the worse –
although our hopes were raised again when we were told that no primary
could be found. So Sue was given a diagnosis of a primary tumour on the
pituitary gland – only the 5th person in the world to be given such a diagnosis
– and began a course of radiotherapy.

At about the same time, Jacqui‟s younger sister, Juliet, gave birth to her first
child, Solomon – Sue and David‟s 6th grandchild. Normally Sue would have
been there as soon as the baby was born, as she was for all our children. But

she couldn‟t be, which was terrible for her and Juliet. As soon as Juliet had
recovered from the birth enough to travel she made plans to visit Sue and
David to introduce them to Solomon. The day before the visit, Sue lost the
sight in other eye. She never saw Solomon. This was in July.

By this time, Sue was living at home, with David, just outside Leicester, and
travelling in to hospital daily for radiotherapy. One weekend, towards the end
of the treatment, David took her to the Lake District to visit Juliet and Solomon
and Juliet‟s partner Chris. On the Sunday, David and Chris went out for a walk
on a mountain. This was their great love. They walked for a couple of hours,
and then, as they came towards the end of the walk, David had a heart attack
and died instantly. He was 65.

The next couple of days were the worst of any of our lives. Chris had to wait
with David for two hours for mountain rescue to come. He then had to break
the news to Juliet and Sue. And around 4pm we had a phone call from a
distraught Juliet to tell us.

I can‟t really bring myself to talk about how this affected Jacqui, or what it felt
like telling our children. I don‟t think I can talk about visiting the mortuary the
next day to see David‟s body or the preparations for the funeral. Sue was in
shock, as you would expect. None of us knew what was going to happen to
her, how this might affect her health, how she would be looked after now that
her carer was gone.

We got through the funeral. It was late August. 300 people came, standing
room only. I took the cremation. Jacqui spoke at the service. And Sue sat in a
chair for two hours after the service talking to every single person who queued
up to talk to her.

September 18th was Sue‟s birthday. She was 64. It was the Saturday in the
middle of the Just 10 fortnight. We went up to Leicester to see her and we
took her out for lunch. It was the last time she went out. She seemed weak
and frail, and told us all that she didn‟t want to live like this for much longer. A

few days later the results of a scan came through. Her tumour was bigger
after the radiotherapy than it had been before. There was nothing more that
could be done. She had only weeks, perhaps even days to live.

This was the Wednesday of the 2nd week of Just 10. That evening at Just 10 I
spoke to Sue in my welcome and introduction, knowing that she would be
listening on the God Channel, and later on J.John prayed for her on air. She
was listening, and it meant a lot to her. On the Friday of that week she went
into a hospice. On the Saturday – the day of the Alpha supper on the
Common – we drove up to Leicester to see her again, and I said goodbye,
before charging back down the motorway to do the supper. Jacqui visited her
again on Monday, by which time she was basically just sleeping. She died
early on Wednesday 29th September, 6 weeks after Jacqui‟s dad. Again
Jacqui spoke at the funeral, and I took the cremation. These two healthy,
active, wholehearted disciples of Jesus who had been such important figures
in our lives had both been taken from us in an incredibly short space of time.

We had never experienced bereavement before, and I don‟t think I had any
idea what it would be like. It has been an appalling time, the worst of our lives
by far, and even now, I don‟t think it really feels any better. I‟m going to
mention this again later – but it doesn‟t go away, not yet, and it doesn‟t even
ease all that much. New things bring it back all the time – planning Christmas;
preparing this talk. It‟s left us feeling tired all the time – our energy levels are
way down on usual. We feel sad a lot of the time. We don‟t know how long it‟s
going to feel like this.

During this period, many people in the church and on the staff have been
wonderful. Nikki came to both funerals, Sam and Sara to Sue‟s. People cared
in practical ways, prayed, shed tears for us. We gained some experience of
what we found helpful, and what we did not, and I‟m going to reflect on some
of that in a moment. But first I want to look at the Bible passage from 2
Corinthians and share some very simple thoughts in the light of our

2 Corinthians 1:3-7
The first thought is this. Praise is still due to God in a time of suffering.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” Paul says. I don‟t
say this lightly. But in a time of suffering, God is still worth our praise. God is
still good. He‟s still on his throne. He‟s still in control. His ultimate purpose has
not been derailed. His victory is still certain. We don‟t feel like praising God in
a time of suffering, but we need to do it anyway. You understand in a time like
this why the Bible talks about „a sacrifice of praise‟. Sometimes it does feel
like a sacrifice. But it‟s so important to hold on to this. We need to praise God
in a time of suffering because he‟s worth praising. And also because praising
God, focussing on him, corrects our perspective, draws us back to the big

Second thought, God is the Father of Compassion. Verse 3, “Praise be to the
God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Compassion.” Two
things follow from this. First of all, when we come to God we do not come to
someone who doesn‟t understand our suffering. He is the Father of
compassion, Compassion simply means “suffering” – that‟s “passion” – and
“with” – that‟s the “com” bit. “Suffering with.” He is the God who suffers with
us. He knows what it is to suffer. We see that on the cross. And he suffers
with us.

But also, the fact that God is the Father of compassion also means that when
we show compassion to others, we acts as his children. One of our core
church values is compassion. Every time we exhibit real compassion for those
who suffer we reflect God‟s heart and we show that we are his children.

Thirdly, God is the God of all comfort – that‟s in verse 3 as well. That means
that as we go to him with our suffering, we may experience his comfort in a
present, subjective sense. We may. I have to say, drawing on my own
experience, that one of the hard things about this kind of suffering is that
sometimes you don‟t feel God at all. You pray out of discipline, out of effort
and willpower, not because you feel like it. Some people may experience an
emotional reassurance from God in times of pain. Generally I did not.

But God is still the God of all comfort in more of an objective sense. I know –
that he is the one who will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Only my
confidence in him gives me certainty that one day all the enemies which
destroy and disfigure human life will themselves be destroyed – even death
itself. This is particularly true in the face of death. Not all of Jacqui‟s family are
Christians. Those of us who are know that death is a temporary experience,
that one day we will see David and Sue again. Those who aren‟t don‟t have
that comfort. I would rather face the death of people I love with that
confidence than without it.

Fourthly, as Christians we share in the suffering of Jesus. Verse 5 says, “the
sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives.” Sometimes Christians make the
mistake of thinking that as Christians we don‟t suffer, or that we only suffer if
we have done something wrong or if our faith isn‟t strong enough or we
haven‟t prayed the right kind of prayers. Not so. Paul says that if we are
followers of Jesus we will also share in his sufferings – those which are
specific to being Christians, as well as those which are the lot of the human
race in general.

But, Paul also says, as Christians we also share in the comfort of Christ.
Verse 5, “For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also
through Christ our comfort overflows.” We experience the comfort of Christ in
three ways.

There is what theologians call „the eschatological hope‟, that is, the
confidence that Jesus will come again, suffering will end, and Jesus will be
triumphant. That‟s a real comfort.

Secondly, there is the comfort of the Holy Spirit now – as I have said,
different people experience this differently, some find it hard to receive the
comfort of the Holy Spirit whilst they‟re suffering, but he is at work

And thirdly, there is the comfort of the church, the community of faith, whose
responsibility is to show the compassion of our Father, to weep with those
who weep, to show care in real and practical ways – and from whom we
certainly received some comfort in our suffering.

Sixth thought from this passage: God uses both our suffering and joy for his
ultimate purposes. Verse 6 says, “If we are distressed, it is for your comfort
and salvation; if we are comforted it is for your comfort, which produces in you
patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.” This is quite a hard verse
to understand, but I think what Paul is saying is, when we‟re suffering, God is
able to use that for his purposes, to build and teach and mould us; and when
we‟re feeling joy and comfort, he‟s able to use that as well. So whichever is
your experience right now, allow God to work in you through it. That‟s not an
easy thing to do. But I have been trying to let God use our experience of
suffering to shape and mould me into the person he wants me to be – not that
he wants it, but he can use it for good.

Seventh and final thought here: suffering for the Christian lasts only for a time.
Verse 7 says, “Our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you
share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.” Suffering for the
Christian is a temporary phenomenon on our way to something better. That‟s
why elsewhere Paul teaches us „not to grieve as those who have no hope.‟
Not that it is wrong to grieve. It is right and human to grieve. But we don‟t
have to grieve as those who have no hope. Because we do have hope that
this life is not all that there is, and that one day our temporary sufferings will
be caught up and overcome in the victory of Jesus.

Principles for relating well to those who are suffering
In my last few minutes I want to offer 10 principles which, reflecting on
Scripture and our own experience will help each of us to relate well to those
who are suffering. These are things which we have found helped us, or the
opposite didn‟t help us, or we think they would have helped us.

   1. Don’t avoid suffering people
When someone has experienced a bereavement, a devastating diagnosis, or
some other kind of tragedy, often we feel we wouldn‟t know what to say to
them or how to be of any help. We think that we might be more of a hindrance
than a help. We feel awkward with them. So we avoid them. We keep our
distance, because we aren‟t comfortable in the situation. Sometimes we think,
they probably only want to talk to people they know really well, or they might
prefer to be left alone right now. I understand that. And it‟s true that when you
know a lot of people, as we do, it can become gruelling to have very similar
conversations many times over. But our view would be, it‟s better to come
over, to say something, to do something, than to avoid someone because
they‟re in pain. And hopefully by the time I‟ve finished you‟ll feel you might be
better equipped to do or say something that helps, if you‟re someone who
might worry you wouldn‟t know what to say or do.

   2. Don’t avoid the topic
This is quite a similar point, but some of us feel that it might be better not to
talk about the situation. No-one wants to be the person who uses the C-word
in a conversation with someone who has just been diagnosed with cancer, for
example. And it is hard to judge this right. But Jacqui and I would feel it is
better to talk about what has happened, to be real about it, rather than to be in
denial about it. As an example of this, Jacqui told me last week that she now
often will talk about her parents in conversation with other people. She will
bring them up, because she knows other people may be reluctant to do so,
but she wants to keep acknowledging them as a vital part of her life, a key
part of who she is, and still an influence on her.

   3. Don’t say too much

Often when someone is suffering, the uncomfortable truth is that there is
nothing you can say that makes things better. That isn‟t because you can‟t
think of the right thing to say, it is because there is nothing that can be said.
But it makes us uncomfortable to admit that. So we say things anyway. For
Christians, this often leads us into easy spiritual-sounding answers which are
no help at all. You know the kinds of things I mean. “Well, the Lord must have
a plan in it all”. “They‟re in a better place”. These things might be true, but to
be honest they don‟t much help. What helps is when someone is honest
enough to say, “You know, I don‟t know what to say. This is awful for you, and
there‟s nothing I can say to make it better.” Something like that is fine.
Suffering forces us to admit that we don‟t have an easy answer for everything,
and it isn‟t a bad thing to be faced with that.

   4. Don’t make assumptions
This is a related point, but quite an important one. When we say too much,
often what comes out is our assumptions and our own experiences. Our
assumptions come out in sentences that begin “I suppose you must be feeling
such-and-such….” For example, people have said to me, “I suppose Jacqui
must be beginning to feel better now.” The answer is, actually, no she isn‟t. In
some ways the last month has been the worst of all. Much better to ask a
question: “Is Jacqui beginning to feel any better?”

Our experiences also come out when other people suffer. All of us have
experienced suffering to some degree. And I‟ve been quite moved by people
who have talked about real suffering they have experienced, suffering I knew
nothing about. But it needs to be handled well. One older man, not a member
of this church, came to see us to offer his condolences, and ended up in tears
on Jacqui‟s shoulder as he recalled his own parents dying. It didn‟t help.

One phrase to avoid is, “I know just what you‟re going through”. I‟ve come to
realise that this is never true. Even when the circumstances are similar, our
experience is never quite the same. For example, when someone is widowed.
This is a very common experience. There‟s a lot of married people at this
service, and half of us will be widowed. So it‟s common. But the experience is

never quite the same as somebody else‟s. One person is widowed suddenly,
another has time to prepare. For another, the relationship was going through
a tough patch when death came, and there are lots of added issues around
guilt and forgiveness. For another, the partner who has died was the
breadwinner, so there was an economic dependence. For another there was
an emotional dependence. And so on. Our experiences may help us to be
more sensitive to what others are going through, but they are never identical.

   5. Don’t only talk about the issue
This takes some judgement, because there are times when we‟re suffering
that nothing else features on our mental horizons at all, so we don‟t want to
even think about anything else. But that doesn‟t last forever. The person who
is battling a long term sickness probably doesn‟t only want to talk about that
sickness. If they were interested in world affairs or racing cars before,
chances are, they still are. At some point we need to begin to treat people like
whole rounded people again, not just as suffering people.

OK, lots of don‟ts. Now some more positive ones.

   6. Do let suffering people talk
I asked Jacqui what she had found most helpful and this was one of the things
she mentioned. People don‟t want to be forced to talk about what they‟re
going through – but often they really value the opportunity to do so. You may
ask a question and be surprised that it takes half an hour for the person to
answer. It‟s because they‟re thinking about this all the time, and there are all
kinds of unarticulated thoughts in their head. Telling the story can be
therapeutic. It can help a person to make sense of it themselves. So if you‟re
friends with someone who is suffering, be prepared to make time to listen.

   7. Be as practical and specific as possible
Practical help is very valuable when people are suffering. It may not be in any
way related to the issue, but it eases pressure elsewhere in life. After Jacqui‟s
parents died, there were lots of people who said to us, “If there‟s anything we
can do, please let us know”. We really appreciated that. Some people who

said that to us we asked to do something, others I don‟t think we ever did, but
we were grateful all the same.

But what we found most helpful of all was when people took the initiative to do
something practical that they would know would need doing. The thing is, you
can‟t really think straight when you‟re in pain, and the task of working out what
needs to be done and then who might do it – never mind trying to decide if the
people who offered help really meant it or if they were just being polite – feels
like a bit of a managerial role that you don‟t feel like doing. What was great
was when someone like Lizzie said, “I‟m bringing round a meal for tonight and
tomorrow so you don‟t have to cook” or Maggie said “I‟m going to come round
and do your ironing” or when the staff team turned up and tidied up the house,
or cooked food for us, or when people say to us, “Let‟s give you some time
together – we‟ll come and look after the children for a couple of evenings so
you can be alone.” Somebody even insisted on paying for our car to be
serviced so we didn‟t have to worry about that. Very specific, practical things
that meant we didn‟t even have to think about what needed doing – and we‟re
very grateful for all the help like that we‟ve received.

   8. Realise suffering changes people, long and short term
Speaking personally, I find that we are different at the moment. I don‟t know
how we‟ll be different long term, but we‟re certainly different now. We both get
tired much more quickly – actually we feel tired all the time. I have certainly
noticed that my energy levels are well down. The evening meetings are much
harder for me than they used to be. I don‟t imagine that will last indefinitely,
but I don‟t know how long it will last. And I don‟t know what other changes we
will see in ourselves in the longer term. But I do anticipate that we will have
changed, because suffering does that to people.

   9. Stay the course
Suffering is often a long term thing. Illness can be. Aging and physical
deterioration is. Bereavement is. Often we assume too much in terms of how
people are recovering. I have already mentioned the comments I have heard,
where people say “I guess it‟s getting better now” and I have to say, “No it

isn‟t.” It takes a long time. People will need the support, the friendship, the
understanding over a long period. Someone else‟s suffering may become to
some extent yesterday‟s news. It isn‟t shocking any more. But that doesn‟t
mean that the needs are any less. Stay the course, give it time, and don‟t try
to rush it.

      10. Pray
This really does help. We really appreciated the number of people who were
praying for us. It showed love, and brought God into our situation in a very
real way. Please pray for people you know who are suffering. It‟s great to let
people know you are doing this, as well. It encourages them, that even if they
don‟t feel able to pray very well for themselves, someone else is bringing
them before God. As a Christian community it is one of the wonderful
privileges we have, that we get to bring each other before God in times of
need. Nobody else – no other group – gets to do this. So let‟s do it, and make
sure those we are praying for know we are doing it.

I need to wrap up. I want to say again that we have been very grateful for all
the love and support we have received. I never imagined when my name
turned up on a preaching rota back in the early summer to give this talk that I
would have gained so much experience to reflect on before I gave it. I guess it
might have been an uncomfortable talk to listen to. It‟s certainly been an
uncomfortable one to prepare and give. But I believe we have an opportunity
as a Christian community to learn how to do this well, reflecting on Scripture
and experience together, so that this church becomes a place of healing and
love and wholeness for suffering people who encounter God here. Let it be


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