Experiencing Other People’s Pain as Opposed to Feeling it

There’s a differencing between saying “I feel your pain” and “I’m experiencing your pain with you.”  I leave for South Africa in three weeks for a 28 day missions project with Campus Crusade.  I’ll be going back there for a year in January as a full-time, short term missionary.  I only have one goal for our trip this July.

I want to be able to cry for people, with people. 

I can say that I have definitely felt other people’s pain, brokenness, and loss.  But I don’t experience it like a Christian is commanded to.  Paul says, “Weep with those who weep” (Rom. 9:15).  He writes, “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Cor. 12:26).  It’s a hard thing for me to confess, but I beg the Lord to help me cry with people.  I don’t experience their pain.  Here’s an analogy: Think of a person who is born with the physical defect of not having an arm.  They feel that it’s not there.  They can’t pick up anything.  They reach over to touch it with their other hand and nothing is there.  They genuinely feel its absence.  Now think of another person who was born with a good arm but lost it in a violent accident.  They not only felt the pain of losing it, they experienced losing it.  They experienced the horror and hardship that went with it.  It’s not that the first person’s feelings aren’t genuine; it’s just that the second person can confidently look at someone else who has lost an arm and say, “I’ve been there.  I’ve experienced what you’re going through.”

When I go to South Africa and sit with orphans who don’t have shoes or enough food and they are joyful just because we are playing with them, I want to weep for them.  I want to weep for their salvation.  I want to weep for their lack of essential felt needs.  There’s a line in one of my favorite songs called “Oh My God” by Jars of Clay.  It goes, “If the world was how it should be maybe I could get some sleep.”  I definitely feel that in my heart, but I don’t experience it.  I don’t live in that world.  I live in the Disneyland of America and that kind of brokenness that Africa experiences is foreign to me.

Perhaps this is why I have prayed to suffer while I’m Africa next year.  I’m not praying to be a martyr — I don’t think Christians should pray that — but I pray that I would experience the hardships of the Christian life that Scripture talks about so often.  I don’t know what it will look like to experience pain with other people.  I don’t know what it will look like to weep with them.  I only pray that God is gracious and merciful to show me his beauty and that he will transform me from one degree of glory to another.