Common suffering has a unique way of building community.
It starts with those small and inconsequential struggles. Two moms with tantruming toddlers throw sympathetic smiles to each other at the park. A knowing glance is cast when the woman in the checkout line buys chocolate, ice cream, tampons and Advil. There’s a collective groan at the airport when a group of people realize their flight was delayed.
But when the shared struggles go deeper, the bond grows stronger. It happens when we share a similar diagnosis, have children with similar special needs, have been betrayed in similar ways, or have suffered similar loss. I had a miscarriage in between my two sons, and I remember acutely the tribe of mothers who surrounded me, offering words of wisdom, encouragement, and empathy. They too had lost babies, so when they drew close, their company was a comfort to me because they understood.
Yesterday I witnessed a unique and tragic bond. I met men and women of 5 different nationalities whose common thread of tragedy was in being forced to flee their country. They come from different cultural, socioeconomic, educational, and religious backgrounds, but all share the title of “refugee.” They all share the pain of loss and the struggle of trying to make a new life here.
I encountered a Burmese and Afghani woman—neighbors for over a year, unable to communicate with each other because of language barriers—who clearly displayed the affection of sisterhood. Rather than growing a friendship through shared interests or passions, their hearts were knit together because of adversity.
There is just something about shared suffering that makes us gravitate towards each other. There are distinct bonds found in brokenness. There is comfort in knowing that others can relate to our pain and sorrows. We long to be understood, to have our burdens carried, to find encouragement that we can make it another day. We can find some substance of this understanding in each other. But even this is limited. Like the refugees whose community has been built over common tragedy, they do not know or understand each other completely. They all bear the status of “refugee,” but continue to face individual trials— the child recently diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease, the boy who just had his bike stolen, the man who lost a leg, the widowed mother raising her children—even when we share significant struggles, we can only understand each other in part.
The One who created the world, but then came to the world as a “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.”
The great High priest who not only sympathizes with our weaknesses, but has been tempted in every way we are, yet remained without sin.
Jesus intimately knows and has shared our sorrows. He was born in poverty, and only a few years later became a refugee. He was misunderstood by his family and betrayed by his closest friends. He experienced fatigue and physical pain. He was falsely accused, and so vehemently despised that crowds chanted for his execution.
And at one point, He was so desperate that He begged the Father to remove the cup of suffering awaiting Him. But in love and willing submission to God’s great plan of rescue—those blueprints of redemption that were laid out before the foundation of the world—He went to the cross. Though He’d been perfect, He paid for every act of anger, lust, greed, pride, and selfishness. He bore the guilt of sins He’d never committed, paid for them in full, and secured forgiveness for all who repent and believe.
In Jesus, we find everything. We find the forgiveness we so desperately need, and we find the friend we so desperately crave. In Jesus, we can be fully loved and fully understood. In Jesus, our suffering is fully known and our burdens fully carried. He weeps with us in our sorrows, and will wipe every tear when He greets us in our eternal home.
So when we suffer in community together, loving each other but aware of our limitations, we have this great hope—there is a Savior who suffered for us, so that we could know the fullest, deepest, and richest community in Him.