I find a lot of the time, especially when I was really ill but even now, that people felt guilty telling me of hardships. Small things especially, like suffering with a cold or a bad nights sleep, but often they aren’t mentioned at all or if they are, it is with a “oh, but it’s nothing compared to what you have been through, I shouldn’t even mention it”.
Actually, I probably do the same myself. There is the tendency to think that because someone suffers greatly, they will be insulted if we seek comfort in our smaller sufferings. Sometimes they are. Or, to think that they would consider the small suffering to not be suffering at all, because the gap between them is so huge.
The way I see it is this though: any suffering or hardship, is suffering or hardship. It is beyond the point of not-suffering, and so unpleasant, no matter the comparison to anything else. If comparison was the only legitimiser to needing comfort, I doubt anybody would be worthy of it, because there always seems someone who is worse off in some way.
I found that, on the contrary to what people thought, I wanted to comfort people more when I was suffering, because I appreciated the comfort so much myself. Comforting someone is in itself a thing that makes you feel good, even the comforter. It brings people together, and part of me chaffed at being denied that when people would not share any hardships with me because of my own situation. I felt most of all, that I was more able to sympathise or empathise, more able to offer the silent comfort of listening, because I understood so much of what suffering was. Especially in things that seem shadows of what I went through – tiredness, pain, injustice, and whatever else – I know how awful they can be to go through, in a way those without encountering suffering could.
I think Biblically that this is the way to go, too. I came across this yesterday, from 2 Corinthians 1:
Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so through Christ our comfort also overflows. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation. If we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is experienced in your endurance of the same sufferings that we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that as you share in the sufferings, so you will share in the comfort.”
It reminded me of my thoughts on this matter; that actually it is through suffering ourselves that we are able to really come alongside others in suffering, and that it makes you want to do just that. I don’t deny that there are people who really do get upset by others mentioning their own sufferings, indeed that there are times in which it isn’t a great idea to bring up minor things in the face of major, but I think that this is the right response to suffering – to reach out and comfort others. Not always easy, or painless, but right.