Are You Pointing Your Suffering Friend to Earthly Things?

As the evidence of the loss of my first unborn baby took hold of my body, the midwife looked into my tear-filled eyes and said, “Don’t worry, honey, you’ll have another baby.” In offering up the seemingly comforting words many others have offered to thousands of women over the years, she left me feeling hopeless—my pain, dismissed. I did have another baby, and then another, and I lost both of them, too. 

As I’ve walked the devastating road of recurrent miscarriage these last two years, I’ve witnessed this same sentiment numerous times whether said directly to me or to someone I know. While there are many issues with a statement such as this, there’s one I’d deem most problematic: many Christians are far more concerned with earthly blessings than heavenly joy.

You Can’t Fix It

Despite the many warnings in Scripture that reveal Christians are called to suffer, I find we are very uncomfortable with it (Phil. 1:29; James 1:2; 1 Peter 4:12). Our discomfort increases even more when a brother or sister in Christ experiences prolonged suffering. Surely the meals and condolences should fix it, right? The applicable truths have been shared, so, can we move on now?

We long to bind up their wounds with Band-Aids; we long to plant seeds and walk away. But truly, bearing each others’ burdens looks a lot more like digging our hands into the dirt, wetting the ground with our empathetic tears, and searching for the goodness of God among the thorns with our friends. The flowers of faith that spring up from suffering will emerge, but it takes time and patience for them to grow.

But we live our lives short on time and patience, don’t we? The “at least” and “look on the bright side” statements that jump from our mouths originate from a desire to fix a hard circumstance, but in saying them, we run from the reality that we simply can’t. We can’t take our fellow Christians’ suffering away. Unfortunately, in our efforts to help take their minds off their pain, we often point them to the wrong place.

Help or Hindrance?

I came across Peter’s rebuke recently and it struck me in a new way. Jesus foretells his death and resurrection to his disciples, and Peter simply can’t stand the thought.

And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matt. 16:22–23).

Peter couldn’t imagine that Jesus had come for any other reason than to triumph over the Roman government and rule on earth. His hope was in getting an immediate rescue from his current hard circumstances. But Jesus was on a much greater mission than to overthrow the Roman government. He came to die for sinners and save them from themselves. He came to take care of Peter’s greatest need, not to fulfill his earthly desires. Peter’s mind was set on things of man. Jesus wanted to shift his focus heavenward.

When we tell a woman who’s lost a baby that she’ll have another baby or a woman struggling with infertility that “it will happen” or a cancer patient that it’s always God’s will to heal on earth, we encourage them to focus on their circumstances. We tempt them to place their hope in shifting sand. In doing so, we actually become a hindrance to them rather than a help.

Look to Jesus

It’s no wonder Jesus follows up His rebuke of Peter with this reminder: those who follow Him must take up their cross and deny themselves. We profit nothing by gaining all that we desire in this world at the expense of our soul (Matt. 16:24–26). Disciples of Jesus are called to place their minds on things that are above as we bear the various crosses this life entails. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1–3).

When someone shares their suffering with us, it’s imperative that we learn to point their eyes heavenward rather than to search for solutions or grant false hope. Because at the end of the day, we aren’t promised babies, healing, or an end to our suffering on earth. We are, however, promised Jesus and the grace He provides for each trial (Rom. 8:28–39).

Instead of reminding a sufferer that “this too shall pass” or claiming the Lord will give them something they haven’t been promised, let us tell them of His faithfulness. His steadfast love remains, even if they don’t receive the thing they desire and their suffering continues. Let’s help them look to Jesus, where their true hope lies.

A Living Hope

When Jesus died on the cross, Peter and the other disciples didn’t receive their earthly desire. To their veiled eyes, it looked as though hope had vanished. In reality, true hope had finally come—eternal hope that no one could steal. This is the hope that breaks our chains and pays our debt; it’s the hope that raises dead sinners to life and gives them a beautiful inheritance that is secure in Christ. Often the hard things in life bring about the biggest blessings. When God withholds something from us on earth, He’s always accomplishing something better—even when all seems grim.

Our hope is in Jesus. This is why we must refuse to encourage others to place their hope in anything else. Don’t tell them God will give them a baby. Remind them that even if He doesn’t, His steadfast love will meet them there, His hand will uphold them, and their hope is secure in Him. When life steals away sufferers’ earthly happiness like a thief in the night, remind them of their beautiful inheritance that can’t be stolen (Matt. 6:19–21; 1 Peter 1:3–7).

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you (1 Peter 1:3–4).

Jesus is our living hope. He is the greatest treasure to behold, and the Christian can never lose Him. Point your suffering friend to Him, not earthly things.

About the Author

Brittany Allen

Brittany Allen

Brittany Allen lives in Ohio with her husband, James, their sons, and three babies lost through miscarriage. She's a writer, co-host of the Treasuring Christ podcast, and the social media coordinator for Gospel-Centered Discipleship. You can read more of her … read more …

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