Updated: Jun 18
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
I learned something new this week. (Don’t you love when that happens?) I learned about secondary trauma, which is indirect exposure to a traumatic event through a firsthand account or narrative. People who experience secondary trauma can feel fatigued, overwhelmed, or numb. I would define it as empathy on steroids.
I now know that I experienced secondary trauma on my five-year journey with Minh Phuong Towner as we worked together to bring her life story to print in Straining Forward. I walked alongside her as she revisited rape, abuse, discrimination, and abandonment. I don’t want to trivialize the condition, but I have to say, there is something beautiful and sacred about being in the trenches with someone who is suffering.
When Jesus finally arrived in Bethany, he met a grieving Mary and Martha. “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21) The women had put their hopes in Jesus, they had reached out to him when Lazarus was ill, but Jesus hadn’t responded in a timely fashion, and Lazarus had passed away. The beauty in this story is that we are able to see Jesus’s full humanity in the pain he experienced through the sisters’ grief. The Bible tells us, Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” (John 11:35-36)
Jesus wept. Those who stood by interpreted this reaction as love. We are called to do the same: meet people in their suffering, listen as they cry, and ache with them. This is love.
Back in 2002, my then-husband left me, and I was headed toward a divorce I did not want. The friends (and I use that term loosely) we had shared, suddenly disappeared. No one wanted to take sides, so they chose not to get involved. They stayed away. They ignored me. Without family nearby, and tethered to a full-time job, I felt like a ship at sea without a motor or sails. But there was this elderly couple at my church who said, “We are here for you. We’ll expect you for dinner on Tuesday at 6:00.” I barely knew this couple, but they invited me into their safe space, fed me, and hurt alongside me. What I appreciated most was that they listened to me without judging and ached with me without offering advice. Needless to say, I went back often.
I strive to be like that beloved couple, but I admit, I often fall short. I am more apt to act like Job’s friends, offering advice where none was requested or trying to insert reason into an unreasonable situation. This doesn’t help anyone. I have to remind myself that I am not Jesus. I will not be able to raise Lazarus from the dead, so I shouldn’t try. It’s my duty to care, not to fix.
I keep a running prayer list. It’s full of broken marriages, illness, job loss, grief, and a plethora of uncertainties. Due to COVID, I’m adding a couple new lines every day. Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. (Psalm 130:1-2) I like to cross requests off the list as prayers are answered or no longer needed, but this red pen action is occurring less and less frequently these days. It’s impossible for me to fix any of these problems, so I pray. But occasionally I go beyond prayer and tread on holy ground. I meet someone in their pain, listen with attentive ears, and ache with them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15) It’s easy to walk alongside people who are joyful, whose lives are unproblematic. But sometimes God calls us to take the difficult route and walk into another person’s pain where it’s dark and scary. This is where healing and growth occur. This is where God meets us, strengthens us, uses us, and hurts with us. This is where restoration and transformation abound. This is holy ground.
Straining Forward is currently in production to become an audiobook. It’s my job to listen to each section as it’s completed and offer comment or approve the recording. Hearing the book being read aloud is difficult and painful, something I didn’t anticipate. Though my heart is breaking all over again for what Minh endured, I consider it a privilege to travel this road. Her story changed me, it changed readers, and I believe the audio version will change others.
I could have walked away from this project. I could have left it for someone else to carry through. In fact, I thought about calling it quits when I suffered a stroke one year into writing the book. Minh thought about calling it quits, too. But through prayer we came to realize that God had not released us from writing this story together. Instead, God used my compromised condition to draw Minh and me into a more trusting relationship, which resulted in a more honest and God-honoring book. Had either of us quit when the going got tough, we would have missed what God had planned to accomplish through us in the pain.
So, it is with great expectation that I journey into the dark corners of Minh’s life yet again.
…forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)
If you want to know God better, take a walk on holy ground with someone who is suffering. It doesn’t matter if you agree with their source of pain or not; just accept the fact that they are hurting. Meet them. Listen to them. Ache with them. Then, in awe, watch what God will do!
I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. I will glory in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together (Psalm 34:1-3)
THE SONG THAT COMES TO MIND IS Help Somebody Cry by Greg Long.
Lyrics: “Lend a friend your faith. Walk them through the dark.”