Comforting and Consoling
by Kathie Bender Schwich
In worship on Sunday during the Prayers of the Church, the congregation to which I belong prayed for “comfort and relief for those who are suffering.” I’m not sure what the assisting minister had in mind when he wrote those words, but as I heard them my mind immediately went to those both near and far about whose suffering I was painfully aware.
Within the confines of the church’s sanctuary itself, I thought about the family several pews behind me whose husband and father is currently in prison; the woman sitting next to me who shed tears during the Hymn of the Day, finding the words particularly painful as she mourns the death of her parent; and the couple across the aisle who, nearly a decade later, still grieve the death of their young child. Then I thought about my colleagues: one who was recently diagnosed with an aggressive type of cancer and is currently dealing with the physical and emotional pain of chemotherapy, and another whose husband was just informed that his job was being eliminated and who is worried about how they’ll pay the mortgage.
Suffering wasn’t confined to Job or people of Job’s day. It is all around us. So how are we, people of the Resurrection, people who are convinced that “nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:38–39) supposed to bring comfort and relief to those who suffer?
Both roles are painfully difficult and, at times, can be overwhelming . . . . It is human nature to want to reach out and help those who are in pain. We must draw from the goodness that is in each of us as a place to begin.”
I think it is safe to assume that whenever we reach out to help another in pain our intentions are good. However, good intentions don’t always lead to words of comfort or relief being expressed. Often, in our desire to make the person feel better, or even to “fix” the situation, we say things that are less than helpful . . . and maybe even hurtful . . . to the person who is suffering.
ELCA pastor Kathie Bender Schwich serves as senior vice president of mission and spiritual care for Advocate Health Care in Illinois, a social ministry organization of the ELCA. Previously she has served as a parish pastor, an assistant to the bishop of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod, and executive assistant to the presiding bishop and executive for synodical relations for the ELCA. She holds a Master of Divinity degree from Luther-Northwestern Theological Seminary and is married to Pastor Daniel Schwich. They are the parents of three sons.
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