In suffering, we tend to draw inward and isolate to protect ourselves from further pain. Satan preys on that instinct, convincing us that we don’t need anyone else, and that others will only add to our grief, rather than easing it. He wants us to feel alone and self-righteous in our pain. Yet as we lean into God and his people, the Lord can transform us into humble servants, sanctified and shaped by our suffering.
One of my dearest friends lost both parents to suicide. Her father died when she was a teenager, and her mother passed away more recently. I was stunned and speechless when she told me about her mother’s death. How does anyone endure that kind of loss?
I was sure my words would be inadequate and unhelpful, yet my friend kept calling, asking my advice, letting me minister to her. She humbly shared both her pain and her struggles. She confessed her anger at her siblings’ callous response and asked me to pray for her. When she told me that our conversations had helped her, I was convicted by how rarely I let people into my pain. I had often assumed that if they hadn’t experienced what I had, they wouldn’t be able to understand it.
Rather than inviting others into my pain and grief, I’ve often pushed them away. I’ve felt a vague sense of self-righteousness, confident that no one could speak into my life except God himself. I’ve dismissed others’ experiences, even the comfort of friends, because they couldn’t fully relate to my suffering.
Temptation to Isolate
Right before my son’s death, my husband and I had worked through a significant marital struggle that intertwined with my grief. Messy and muddled, there were parts of my pain I felt I couldn’t share with others, so I was sure that no one could know how I felt. I withdrew from fellowship, hesitant to share deeply with others—it felt too vulnerable to be that exposed. Besides, I looked stronger and more spiritual when I didn’t let people in.
My attitude unknowingly intensified my pain, cutting off an important means of God’s grace and rescue: his people. My grief isolated me, ushering me into a silent silo in which I felt compelled (or perhaps entitled) to deal with my struggle alone. I said I was tired of hearing platitudes, but in truth, I was tired of hearing anything. I had closed everyone off, and no one dared to enter in.
This temptation to isolate, to pull away from community, assuming no one can help, is common in suffering. So how do we fight this temptation to pride—to believing that no one understands us and therefore no one can help us?
Pain and Loss and Sin
As someone who has dealt with layers of losses, I have seen this temptation to pride and isolation more than once. Pain, like sin, has a way of hardening my heart and blinding me to my real need.
When I was a single parent dealing with a significant physical disability, I was less concerned about being rescued from my sin than I was about being commended for my faith. In fact, I saw myself as a righteous victim in anything related to my suffering. Yet even those commended by God for their righteousness were not sinless, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). For instance, while Job was a righteous man, his suffering humbled him, and he repented in dust and ashes for pridefully speaking of what he did not know (Job 42:5–6).
I hadn’t fully considered my own sin as it related to my suffering until I heard Joni Eareckson Tada share about how pain and loss had sanctified her. She was paralyzed in a diving accident at age 17 and often spoke about how God changed her, transforming her once-sour and peevish disposition as she submitted daily to Jesus. Most of us would expect, or at least excuse, a quadriplegic with an irritable attitude, but Joni was determined to let God use her disability to refine her character. She writes in Lost and Found: