Comparing Suffering

At church this morning, my pastor continued a series called “The Fifth Gospel” based on the book of the same name by Bobby Conway.  The idea is that many people will never read the Bible so, to spread the Gospel, we need to live it.  In today’s message, he talked about being an example by the way we respond to the suffering in our lives.  During the message, he brought up people who he believed exemplified this trait to share their stories.  One couple’s story hit me pretty hard and it was difficult to keep from tearing up while listening to the multiple tragedies they’ve suffered together.  Unfortunately, I found myself responding in an abysmal way that is regrettably way too common for me.  Often times, when I hear someone talking about their misfortunes, I immediately begin comparing them to my own and, more often than not, I determine that what I’ve had to deal with is worse.  It’s an awful habit that I frequently catch myself falling into, but today, God really convicted me of it and showed me how it can be harmful in multiple ways.

First, it numbs me to the pain others are feeling.  While I can still empathize and grieve with someone during this process, the effect is stunted by the belief that my pain is more significant or substantial.  Supporting someone through a difficult time is much less effective when, in the back of your mind, you’re thinking they should just suck it up and move on because they don’t know what real pain feels like.  I find this often manifests when someone is mourning the loss of something I’ve never had and I’m reminded of the old saying, “It’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.”  While I’m perfectly aware that this is a horrible response, I’ve yet to be able to overcome much of the bitterness that stems from my lot in life.

The second way that this attitude is harmful is that I’m constantly feeling sorry for myself and bemoaning the ways in which I’ve been wronged.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve asked God to help me overcome this attitude, but I continue to focus on the negative aspects of my life much more often than the positive.  I try to stop and thank God for all the blessings He’s provided, but as I do, my thoughts inevitably drift to the things that everyone else takes for granted and that I long for so desperately.  My overdeveloped sense of justice kicks in and I begin complaining to God that it isn’t fair that everyone else gets to experience love and family while I’m often left feeling lonely and empty.

I know that this is a big hurdle I need to overcome and I could use all the help I can get so please pray that God will help me better appreciate the gifts He’s given me and that I can stop trying to out-do other people’s pain.

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