Get Outside Yourself in Suffering

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After multiple school drop-offs for my older kids, I packed up my bag and hurried my 3-year-old to the minivan to get to our Bible study (late, again). I was struggling with a trial in my own life and hoped that sitting and soaking in the teaching of God’s word would encourage my heart. It was one of those days that I had to fight to focus on the teaching, and not drift off into self-pity as I thought about my own circumstances.

In trials like these I’m tempted to be completely self-absorbed. It’s harder to see needs around me when I’m constantly thinking about my own problems. My sinful tendency to throw a pity party and navel gaze flares up when the storms of life arise. And in my own world it becomes easy to judge others for not reaching out to me in my pain.

Jesus Was Outside Himself

But God confronted this tendency through his word.

“As Christians we’re not exempt from serving others because we’re going through a difficult season of life.”

As I studied the Gospel of John this year, one significant lesson about suffering stood out to me. As Jesus was being crucified — suffering one of the most barbaric and torturous forms of death — he looked down at the small circle of disciples, saw his earthly mother Mary, and had compassion on her.

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:26–27)

In the midst of his arduous pain and suffering, Jesus wanted to make provisions for his mother. He was able to look outside of his own circumstances to consider his mother’s needs. And he called upon his beloved disciple, John, to be the one to care for her. This is the love we should be willing to show to others in the midst of our own suffering.

Sleep, or Sacrifice?

One week during the Bible study, as I gazed across the church sanctuary, my eyes fell upon a young mom who I knew was struggling in her marriage. I usually invited a friend over for lunch after Bible study, but this morning my heart was heavy and I really just wanted to go home, comfort myself with chicken soup, and put my son down for an early nap! I wrestled with whether I had the energy (both physically and emotionally) to invite this young woman and her children over for lunch.

Asking for God’s help, I invited her over after the study concluded, reminding myself of the exhortation in 1 Peter 4:19, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” This verse does not give me an “out” when I’m feeling low or hurt or disappointed.

Four Ways to Persevere While Doing Good

“God will not call us to something that he will not equip us to do.”

As Christians we’re not exempt from serving others because we’re going through a difficult season of life, but instead we’re called to lift our eyes heavenward and trust our sovereign God to give us the needed grace to keep going. God will not call us to something that he will not equip us to do (2 Corinthians 9:8).

What suffering are you experiencing in your life that is tempting you to be too focused on yourself? Here are four simple ways to move beyond your own trying circumstances to persevere in doing good.

1. Pray for your own heart. When our hearts are downcast and spiraling down the tunnel of despair, cry out to God for deliverance. Ask for strength and grace to take your eyes off yourself, and keep persevering in good works.

2. Look around you. Who has God placed in your life who might benefit from your encouragement? An elderly neighbor who is lonely? A sleep-deprived new mom who could use a meal? Your own children who are craving your focused attention? Getting our eyes off self and onto others has a way of lifting our hearts out of despair.

3. Cultivate a grateful spirit. Even though it might feel like the end of the world, God’s mercies abound. Get out a pen and paper and list God’s blessings you are reaping right now. Did you have energy to get out of bed this morning? Do you have a healthy body enabling you to serve others? Deliberately listing God’s mercies can remind us of his faithfulness and bring joy amid suffering.

“Getting our eyes off self and onto others has a way of lifting our hearts out of despair.”

4. Trust the promises of God’s word. God promises to equip us with grace for every good work. “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). Whatever he calls us to he will enable us to accomplish, despite the rise and fall of our emotions. Search the Scriptures for gems of truth to bank your hope on.

Don’t let the trials of this life numb you into an inwardly focused complacency, but fight to persevere in doing good, trusting that God will sustain and satisfy you as you minister to others.

(@StacyReaoch) is a pastor’s wife and mother of four. Stacy and her husband, Ben, serve Three Rivers Grace Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is the author of the forthcoming book Wilderness Wanderings: Finding Contentment in the Desert Times of Life (November). You can find more of her writing on Facebook.