Not long ago, a friend and I were talking and sharing things we could each use prayer for. After I spoke, she replied “Oh my gosh, I have absolutely no reason to complain about my problems when you’re going through that!”
I kindly corrected her.
“Your problems are valid. We are all doing the best we can with what we have. What you’re going through is unique and challenging to you. What I’m going through is unique and challenging to me.”
You’ve probably had similar conversations during your life with someone who either dismisses their own problems because yours seem worse, or dismisses yours because someone else has it worse.
Here’s the thing:
Suffering is personal, not quantifiable.
Of course there are people in the world who have it worse than us.
But does that mean one’s suffering isn’t valid unless it’s the most severe, extreme circumstance that has ever taken place in human history?
Are someone’s emotions only valid when they feel them to the most extreme capacity anyone has ever felt feelings before?
How would we measure that anyways?
I believe I understand where this perspective on suffering comes from.
I think it usually comes from people who are well-meaning. People who really value gratitude and those who don’t want to be ruled by their emotions. Which is great!
But maybe it also comes from people who haven’t yet met their own suffering with compassion.
Perhaps it comes from people who prefer to brush issues under the rug.
But the feelings don’t go away until we embrace them.
We can try to sweep them under the rug, ignore them, sleep them off, positive them away, drink them down and out run them.
But they always catch up, needing to be acknowledged and dealt with… eventually.
Knowing that, we have to realize choosing to ignore or dismiss emotions is only setting them aside until a later time; a less opportune time – as they usually come out in more inappropriate ways the longer they have been neglected.
Yes, I have food in my pantry and don’t have to walk 8 miles a day for clean water.
I am very, very grateful for that.
My heart is broken for the millions all over the world who don’t have the blessing of those basic life essentials based on how the cards were dealt and where they were born.
I don’t dismiss their suffering by any means.
I want to have a sensitive heart to the suffering of others.
But that includes everyone.
Everyone has suffered.
I won’t say an abused child in America is better or worse off than a starving child in Africa.
Or that someone from a broken home in Ireland is better or worse off than the person in Greece who was sold into sex trafficking.
Or that people fleeing for their lives from extremists in the Middle East are better or worse than people in China living under communism.
Or that someone’s divorce is better or worse than another loosing their home in a fire.
Or that one person getting let go from their job is better or worse than another having their home broken into.
One person’s holocaust isn’t better or worse than another’s slavery.
Every single human on the face of the earth is waring a battle that’s personal and unique to them.
Suffering is suffering… not a competition.
Suffering is sacred.
It’s not something we should compare.
Suffering is something all of us get at least a small dose of.
It’s something we all try to muster up the courage to get out of bed and face down as we begin a new day.
And it doesn’t go away until we acknowledge it.
We can argue back and forth about who has it worse.
But that’s not the point.
It’s not about who has it worse.
It’s about acknowledging the broken, painful pieces each of our stories have and encouraging each other to be brave enough to pursue healing.
It’s honoring the journey of another and the battles they have raged war against.
Your suffering is valid.
… even if you aren’t a starving child in Africa.