Greater Suffering: Greater Love

Is there greater suffering in the world than that which you and I are currently experiencing? Yes. Does that help alleviate our personal suffering? Not at all. Mom used to tell me to finish all the food that was on my plate because there were starving children who would go without food today. But I never understood what my total food consumption had to do with starving children. How about we eat less, thus saving money, and send the rest to feed the starving children? Eating more food is not going to change the reality that some children will go without.

Likewise, acknowledging greater suffering is not going to alleviate our own, personal suffering. You and I still have to cope with our own brand of suffering regardless of any greater suffering in the world. One helpful way to cope with suffering is to talk through the suffering with someone. The late spiritual writer Henri Nouwen, who had spent so much time with severely handicapped Adam, informs us: "Perhaps one of his biggest sufferings was that Adam couldn't tell anyone what was bothering him." Can you imagine not being mentally and physically capable of communicating your inner struggles, pain, and suffering with another person?

Yet, many people who can communicate refuse to do so, for whatever reason. Though I am presently experiencing emotional pain, as I wrote about here, some faithful souls contacted me and loved on me and gave me a chance to air out my feelings. (I thank each and every single one of you for doing so.) Though the burden remains, I admit that I feel better for communicating with others, and I don't feel as though I am bearing this burden on my own.

There is an element within the human heart that needs interaction with other human hearts. We thrive best when we live and think and love in communion with others. We connect with each other on a plane that transcends the intellect and zeros in on the heart. This is why we tend to love and favor some people and dislike or hate others. Those who relatively affirm our own beliefs, or at least affirm us on a human level, are loved by us in a very special way. Those, however, who constantly oppose our beliefs, who actually threaten us on an existential level, are opposed feverishly by us. (Does that help explain our political and social climate?)

Whenever we encounter the suffering stories of others, we then see those people in quite another light, one that humanizes them to a greater degree than before. I want to put flesh and blood on the LGBTQ plight. I don't necessarily want to be the poster boy for all-things-LGBTQ for my friends, family, or church. Then again, only by sharing painful and joyful experiences will others understand the broader humanity better, in this case LGBTQ humanity. I suppose that if I have to be that poster boy then I will gladly assume the role -- except, I am more complex than one aspect of my reality, more layered than mere same-gendered-attracted.

Perhaps we could view our relationships with family and friends as a big house. We all live in this house called a relationship. We are sheltered in this house. We clean each other up in the bathroom of this house. We share meals together in the kitchen of this house. We talk philosophy, religion, politics and love in the living room of this house. We tenderly care for each other in the bedroom of this house, even as we maintain differences of opinion, even as our passions are diverse. We protect our house. We defend our house from intruders. When one suffers then we all suffer. (cf. 1 Cor. 12:26) The greater the suffering the more love we exude.

Our individualistic culture is not accustomed to thinking universally: we prefer "I" instead of "we." But is this not part of our collective problem? We assume too much "us vs. them" rhetoric. We insist far too much on "either/or" instead of "both/and" scenarios. We talk about "reaching across the aisle" instead of removing or filling in the aisle. We reside in cognitive internment camps that we have constructed for ourselves and then whine that we are so divided. But I am you and you are me. We belong together. We are made of one blood. (cf. Acts 17:26) We make separations where none should exist. Our sufferings should remind us how much we are alike, how much we need each other, and how far we still have to go in implementing these truths.


Henri J.M. Nouwen, Adam: God's Beloved (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2011), 85.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.