How many times have you looked at someone else’s suffering and thought, “How on earth do they keep going? I wouldn’t survive a day in that job, or with those disabilities, or with that many kids!” Then, after marveling at their endurance, you look at your own life and feel like the most miserable, sniveling excuse for a Christian ever to disgrace the faith.
Okay, perhaps you don’t wallow in despair quite that much. But you’ve probably had that type of internal dialogue. Another person’s trials make yours seem like child’s play. They have severe physical handicaps; you just have trouble sleeping through the night. Your newborn doesn’t want to keep to a sleep schedule, but she’s homeschooling six kids and helping her husband run the family business. You struggle to care well for a flock of fifty souls, he pastors a booming congregation, speaks at conferences, writes books, AND coaches his son’s baseball team. In short, you’re a wimp and he (or she) is Captain Awesome. And the end result is that, on top of your particular trial, you now feel pathetic for even struggling.
Can you relate? To cap off the whole dilemma, the appropriately high value we Christians place on humility makes us think there’s something useful, even godly, about this kind of comparison. But here’s the problem: comparing your trials to someone else’s cuts you off from the comfort God wants to give you in your trial. If God was our schoolmaster instead of our father, if comfort was dispensed on the basis of merit, not grace – then yes, we might have reason to think we escape God’s notice until our sufferings pile up to Grade A level. But God isn’t like that. To each one of us he can say, “I have searched you and known you,” (Psalm 139:1). To you these words apply: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).
I know what you’re thinking – but they really do face more than I do! And yes, that’s true – and it’s true for every single person. No matter what we go through, someone out there has faced something that’s more difficult, more intense, more challenging. But that doesn’t change God’s compassion for you in your trial. The God who reveals himself as boundless in compassion and mercy walks with each one of us in our trials, tailor matching the comfort receive to the need of the moment. Looking at someone else’s trials tempts us to look away from God and to act as though, because our trials are so small by comparison, maybe we shouldn’t even bother crying out to God for help in our struggle.
So let me make a recommendation: stop comparing your trials. Instead, respond with honesty and humility to God in whatever you are facing. Ask for mercy – God waits to pour it out on you, even if you’re tempted to feel like a loser for even asking!
“Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him” (Isaiah 30:18).
Photo by Emilio Labrador