Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of compassion and the God of all encouragement,
who encourages us in our every affliction,
so that we may be able to encourage
those who are in any affliction
with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God. – 2 Corinthians 1.3 – 4
Affliction(s) are like seasons. They come and they go – some last longer, some shorter.
People afflict us. Personality afflicts us. Events afflict us. Situations, ideas, problems, thoughts, feelings, sensations, physicality – all may afflict us from time to time. Indeed, the list of possible afflictions is very long. And it’s not just you. Life on planet earth is marked by seasons of affliction.
In my experience, comparing afflictions is not very fruitful. Each affliction is different. For example an external affliction – such as another person – is challenging in a different way than an internal affliction – such as sciatica pain. Nevertheless affliction is affliction, and we would be wise not to belittle or compare anyone’s experience or affliction.
What is needed is encouragement amidst the affliction. And the quality of encouragement we aim toward is the kind of encouragement that is grounded in one’s own experience of affliction, and also the experience of having been encouraged spiritually amidst the affliction.
When we suffer it’s as if it is a teacher to us, an inward school. And as we learn from this season of teaching, aspects of our self are worn down, and made more humble, empathetic, even wise. Perhaps such fruit emerges after we first encounter resentment, anger, irritation, sadness.
A lesson to learn from this is that when you speak to someone who is afflicted or suffering (as we all are, at different points in our life ) remember that they don’t need a teacher. They already have a teacher in the form of their affliction. What we can offer is our encouragement – which is very different than helping or trying to solve a problem.
Encouragement is grounded in empathy. And empathy is grounded in humility. And humility is grounded in personal experience, and personal experience is often grounded in suffering.
Our time in the silence can become a preparation for offering a silent presence to another by just being with them in their affliction; listening, attending, bearing witness with and through the affliction – these are often very meaningful, contemplative ways of encouraging another.
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