How do you handle your own pain and suffering? Whether you are experiencing the physical pain of illness, the emotional distress of grief, or the spiritual affliction of persecution, your suffering must be put in perspective or you may become a nagging complainer.

Sometimes we complain about the most trivial things. Then, when we encounter someone whose problems are much more severe than our own, we realize that, in comparison, our pain and suffering seem almost insignificant.

The following story may help us put our personal pain in perspective:

So it was that when the Hasidic pilgrims vied for who among them had endured the most suffering, who was most entitled to complain, the Zaddik told them the story of the Sorrow Tree.

On the Day of Judgement, each person will be allowed to hang all of his unhappiness on a branch of the great Tree of Sorrows. After each person has found a limb from which his own miseries may dangle, they may all walk slowly around the tree. Each is to search for a set of sufferings that he would prefer to those he has hung on the tree.

In the end, each man freely chooses to reclaim his own personal set of sorrows rather than those of another. Each man leaves the tree wiser than when he came.

At some point, everyone encounters problems, inconveniences and difficulties. Some will experience very deep and ongoing suffering. Complaining about our circumstances doesn’t change anything. In fact, as we constantly hear our own complaining, we may become more discouraged. We must put our suffering in perspective and deal with it proactively.

How can you deal proactively with your pain and suffering?

  • Be aware that Jesus empathizes with our suffering. Jesus is no stranger to physical or emotional affliction. The Old Testament prophet described the coming messiah as one who is “a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering” (Isa 53:3).
  • Know that Jesus invites us to bring our sorrows and suffering to him. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:30). Prayer, worship and meditation may all be appropriate channels through which to take our suffering to the Lord.
  • Remember that your suffering is temporary. The Apostle Paul put suffering in eternal perspective when he wrote, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom 8:18).
  • Pray for others who may be suffering. “Pray for each other so that you may be healed” (Jas 5:16). Even during the experience of our own suffering, we have the opportunity to pray for others who are hurting.
  • Offer to help another person who is suffering. “Carry one another’s burdens and in this you will fulfill the law of Christ”(Gal 6:2). There is something encouraging about trying to help a hurting person. Sometimes when we share the burden of another individual, we find that our own burden is lighter.

When you encounter seasons of pain and suffering, remember that you are not alone. A tenacious faith, supportive companionship and the abiding presence of God can get you through some extremely difficult days.

Barry Howard is senior minister of First Baptist Church in Corbin, Ky.

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