My wife is laying on a hospital bed beside me recovering from surgery as I write. Twenty four hours ago, we were planning on waking up and celebrating our daughter’s one year birthday. Now, it’s seven at night and she’s trying to cope with the pain. It began at 2:30 a.m. for her: vomiting, stomach pain, cramps. Her pain built until 10 a.m. when we drove to the emergency room with our two daughters. From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. she was in more severe, escalating pain—likely the most I’ve seen her in. Finally at 2:30 p.m. she was admitted into surgery. The diagnosis was appendicitis—and she’s pregnant, so her health and our son’s life is at stake. The surgery went well—to the praise of God, from the fruit of many’s prayers. But now she’s in recovery. Not the day we planned; but it was his. In it all, he was faithful still.
I write this because of something I’ve been considering, which was particularly pressing today. That is, God made us in such a way that the suffering of others hurts significantly more when someone we love is going through it.
Yet more technically is not the best term. Distinctly or uniquely is most accurate. There’s quantity of feeling involved, but quality of compassion is the main difference. It’s more when it’s a loved one, but most notably different.
As a new pastor, I have had to get much accustomed to hearing and praying about the myriads of sufferings in my congregation. I am still learning and growing. There’s phone calls, a prayer chain, social media posts, and personal conversations which unveil suffering upon suffering. We live in a fallen world. Who will deliver us from our bodies of death? Who can give us hope? I’m glad we know the Hope and Answer.
Yet there is something different when it’s a close, loved one. I do not want to undermine the sympathy and empathy I have felt often when hearing of these requests. By the grace of God, I’ve been able to get a taste of the Shepherd’s compassion for the sheep, especially in suffering. But my father recently underwent nerve-racking emergency surgery, and now my wife (and son in her womb). And I can say there’s a different feeling—a shaking of the breath, a heaviness of the heart, a more frequent closing of the eyes. There’s prayers upon prayers, while paradoxically feeling like you must pray more and not having the capacity. There’s an empathy that you would do almost anything to change their situation and relieve their pain. In short, there’s a unique, strong love.
Exposure in Suffering
Perhaps it is on me that I don’t feel that for those outside of my close, loved one. In fact, biblically I’ve been pondering that some of it is on me. Paul divulged, “How greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:8, KJV). He compared his love for his churches to that of a “nursing mother,” being “affectionately desirous” for them (1 Thessalonians 1:8). His love for the churches was mother-like, familial. It moved him deeply—in how bowels; I believe literally, just as I felt it today witnessing the pain of my wife. By the enablement of God, I pray that I one day may have that more of that love for any human being, especially my fellow brothers and sisters.
Yet at the same time, God is the one who designed this unique, distinct strong love one has for their close loved ones. Physical families and close friendships were his idea. He did not design us to love the general. No matter how hard we try to convince ourselves at times, this is not how we work. The test if we love people is if we love a person. We love the specific, with the foundational strong love being manifest in close relationships and especially in families—a parent’s love for their child arguably being the most supreme.
I’ve recently have been exposed to these two coexisting compassions. On the one hand, I have felt genuine love and empathy for certain church members. How I wish they were well; I pray for them and believe I love them. Yet on the other hand, there is a qualitatively different angst with my father, wife, and son. As they go through suffering, it hurts dramatically.
I believe there’s a divine reason for this. This mainly is why I wrote this post. I’m convinced my distinct, strong love for my wife in suffering displays God’s familial love for his own. He uses all for this end—to display the glory of his love and grace. He specially uses suffering for this end.
Today I felt a distinct love for my wife and son I haven’t felt in a while. That sounds weird even as I write it. I love my family with all my heart. It didn’t increase today per se. But it was distinct. I was watching her in pain. I by God’s grace sought to be strong for her, but I was frightened. I saw her like that and deeply loved her. In the hospital, I saw many sick patients. Some looked awful. Even towards them, I believe I had some compassion. But as I set my eyes on my wife, all was different. (Again, different.) How can I explain it anyway else?
God made us this way—that’s what I’m amazed by right now. Why did he do so? To give us a taste of his love. When he says to his people, “Nothing can separate you from the love of Christ,” it’s not a vague, global decree. It’s to his people. These are the one’s he spots out of the world—the “hospital crowd,” if you will. He gives us loved one and he gives us suffering, so that we can feel what it is like to love (in the context of suffering) a loved one (in contrast to everyone else) when they’re going through pain. It’s unique. It’s distinct. It’s divine. I felt that today.
More could be excavated and extrapolated on this. I pray in my mind and heart I continue to do so even as I cease writing. I feel the glory of God’s love upon me right now because of this. He loves me like that. One of my encouragements throughout today as I watching my wife in utter pain was that he loved her like that. Sometimes it’s easier to believe it for others than yourself. But he loves me like that. She’s his daughter. I’m his son—loved like that distinct, strong love I felt for my own 12 week old son today, but infinitely stronger.
I see dimly why the Bible writers often are unapologetically thankful for suffering. I still have a long ways to go in this—ways upon ways upon ways. But what a privilege to be so loved by God.