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4 Ways to Steward Your Suffering

Photo of Bonnie BlaylockBonnie Blaylock | Bio

Bonnie Blaylock

Bonnie holds an M.A. in creative writing from the University of Tennessee. After translating science-ese into articles and papers for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, for over 20 years she owned a small-animal veterinary hospital with her husband while raising their two children, beekeeping, and traveling extensively. Returning to her creative writing roots, she hosts a blog of personal essays She has completed two novels and is currently at work on a third.

Is there something we can do on the other side of our suffering to help ourselves heal and perhaps even help other people heal? Rather than burying our past suffering, are there any ways we can put our suffering to use and create something good?

In other words, how can we be good stewards of our suffering?

In the first chapter of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, the apostle writes about the God of All Comfort. Here, he gives four ways to be a steward of our suffering:

The first is paying forward any comfort or consolation we ourselves have received.

2 Corinthians 1:4 says “so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” We come alongside others because we’ve been there and know more than anyone else what they’re feeling. We also can point the way to glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel and to the One who is the Light of the World.

Women who have miscarried or lost a child can offer solace like no other to a grieving mother. A friend of mine helped start Cross Heart Ministries after delivering her stillborn baby boy. Women in this group find a deep healing by feeling truly heard and understood in a way sometimes even their own families cannot provide.

Second, easing others through a similar experience helps them endure it.

Verse 6 says if we ourselves have found comfort, it is only “for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.” Having lost my mother at a young age, I make a point of touching base with friends who have recently lost their own, especially on Mother’s Day and other holidays. Steadfast abiding with others through the long haul helps them endure and feel less lonely.

Third, suffering teaches us an abiding reliance on God (1:9), which as Christians we can pay forward.

We can moor others to our anchor until we form an entire flotilla of lifeboats, linked by our shared experience, and grounded firmly to our Rock.

Finally, Paul lands on the gift of prayer (1:11) as a means to both receive and give help.

Sometimes, overwhelmed by the emotions of grief, we lack the words or knowledge for how to pray. When others who’ve walked that road intercede and, even more powerfully, give thanks for what God will form from our ashes, it can be a cool drink for our parched and grieving souls.

As stewards of our suffering, we can offer others hope and assurance that it is possible to keep going and even, we trust, for God to lead us to the abundance He promises. Emerging on the other side, ours might be the only voice someone trusts to say, as Paul learns, that

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4:8-9).

If we’re honest, while burying our pain, grief, hurts, and hardships may ease the pain in the moment, it short circuits our own healing. Worse, it robs us and others of the healing afforded by taking someone’s hand and whispering “I know. Me, too.” The last step in our own healing journey is to turn and offer someone else our hand, to journey together sharing our missteps and victories.

Stewarding our suffering may seem counterintuitive, but the rewards, as Matthew’s parable tells us, are just what the grieving heart calls for: “Well done, good and faithful servant!…Come and share your master’s happiness.”