“The greatest dignity the church can give people who suffer is to tell them that their cries of anguish are worthy of God’s ear.
The most shameful thing the church can do is tell people who suffer that there is something wrong with them for suffering.”
—Matthew Richard Schlimm.
I think of that quote in the context of scripture.
An honest reading of the Okd Testament teaches:
- Tragedy strikes everyone.
- Honest prayer includes your anger and sorrow and honest prayer is needed to communicate with God.
- With honesty, faith can survive tragedy and loss.
Reading the Old Testament you will find many, many prayers that express suffering and loss. Lamentations is all anguish. Pain and loss and despair are almost a third of Psalms.
Consider the themes of the books of Habakkuk and Jeremiah. There is more. Consider Job.
Especially consider that when Job complains, God validates him as speaking what is right (Job 42:6-8).
There are two approaches to the anguish of others.
One is to deny tragedy and loss or to say that they are deserved, like Job’s friends did. That approach leads to a religion and faith that is inadequate to adversity, inadequate for real life.
It also resulted in Job’s friends being roundly condemned by God.
The other approach in responding to someone else’s pain is to read and remember the scriptures as giving honest voice to the pain and grief that people truly feel.
That approach is to recognize that the journey, the response that scripture teaches includes finding honest communication with God that makes possible an honest hope.
And that honest hope can sustain faith in tragedy and loss. Which is why when God spoke out of the whirlwind he validated and honored Job.
For our readers:
- Do you think we should minimize or validate other’s pain?
- Do you think some pain is too small to count?
- Does anyone deserve Christ’s mercy? Does everyone?
- What have you seen in your life?
 I personally think that someone’s pain is their pain. The scripture calls for us to mourn with those who mourn, not take out a measuring stick and tally up who should be mourning and who should just suck it up.
I have sat through lessons where I was told that if you suffer from depression, you need to repent. I have heard many talks and lessons telling me that I should only focus on giving thanks in prayer.
I agree, we are taught that we should mourn with those that mourn. In general, I don’t feel that the Church succeeds in validating anyone’s pain – in fact many of the policies inflict pain on members. What is taught and modeled is that we need to look and behave a certain way and when you don’t, people don’t know what to do with you. We all deserve Christ’s mercy and as we’re supposedly emulating Christ, we should extend that mercy to others.
Do you think we should minimize or validate other’s pain?
If we want to help others, most definitely the first thing we should do is validate, and listen to other’s pain. Validation is a powerful tool–it lets others know that you care, that you hear their pain, that you get it. It can help the person begin to process the injury.
Too often we brush aside people’s pain. But we must remember we are all different–and have had different experiences–physically, mentally, emotionally, genetically we are all different. When we minimize the injury we are discounting their reality, effectively gaslighting them. Just because I might have a different response to something doesn’t mean everyone should or will have the same response–or the same solution. Stop the dismissing, the minimizing, the lectures and instruction. Listen. After a time, if you’ve experienced a similar situation you might share what helped you get through it. But allow that person to find their own way. What helped you might not help them.
Leave the judging up to God–who knows our challenges, our capacity, our circumstances in this mortal life.
(If only I had people in my life follow that guidance–my life could’ve been less painful).
“I personally think that someone’s pain is their pain. The scripture calls for us to mourn with those who mourn, not take out a measuring stick and tally up who should be mourning and who should just suck it up.”
Several years ago in F&T meeting, an elderly gentleman got up to bare his testimony. I don’t believe he was from our Ward. He had just lost a grandson. His testimony wasn’t traditional. He talked about his anguish and pain over losing someone he clearly loved. He talked for more than 10 minutes. I hope it was cathartic for him. It felt good that we as a congregation had provided him with some level of emotional support.