Sufferings and afflictions, though not desired, are consequences of our fallen human nature and help to purify us. To understand every suffering as something which must necessarily be “fixed” is to miss the message that Christ suffered for us and that we share in his suffering. For this reason, positive first step is to merely hear and attempt to feel the sufferings of the other person.
It is also helpful to realize that afflictions of all sorts abound and to remind ourselves not to judge others who may truly be struggling with something that we find mundane or trivial. Afflictions happen to everyone. Too often we do not want to think of ourselves or our friends as being afflicted. We might find ourselves in the office and at home asking how others are doing without a sincere desire to understand or find out how they may be struggling. Rather than a desire to live and share the love of Jesus with them, we might ask how someone is doing as a mere platitude. A quick and simple second step towards comforting the afflicted is to be more intentional in discovering the lives of those around you. You might be surprised at what a coworker, stranger, or family member may be struggling with.
Finally, when you do run across the afflicted, which will happen constantly if you are intentional as suggested above, a good first start is merely to remind the person of their value and worth. Frequently we fail to think every day about the love that God has for us. In particular, one who is afflicted may have completely stricken this from their minds. I can think of a specific instance in which I was working with someone who was clearly troubled and who was struggling with their faith. Not knowing what to do, I asked them if they had ever been asked if they knew that God loved them. This simple question changed the whole conversation, because it told the individual that I cared about them, it reminded them of the fact that God loved them, and it reframed the suffering that they were feeling in the light of Christ’s own suffering for us. Such a simple question and reminder of God’s love for us is as good a place as any to begin in comforting the afflicted.
We all have struggles, as we encounter those around us who are also struggling. Our first step is not to try to solve their problems but just to hear and understand the suffering of others. Second, we should try to be more intentional and aware of the fact that each and every person is an opportunity to love as Christ did, because each of us, despite our appearances, has the affliction of this world. None of us is immune to the trials and challenges of life. Finally, when a friend, coworker, stranger, or family member opens up and shares their afflictions, let us first remind them of God’s tremendous love for them and help them see how he knows their struggles.