“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.” – 2 Corinthians 1:3-6
Comfort. Something we all want and seek out.
Suffering. Something we all hate and avoid.
The vast majority of us live like they are polar opposites. Comfort and suffering. One to be embraced and the other to be escaped. However, Paul connects them. The two are inseparably linked in Jesus.
Most of us, when we think of suffering, believe that the way out of suffering is to eliminate whatever is the cause. But the reality is that the first step out of suffering is comfort. It is comfort that inspires, and manifests hope; and, it is hope that births redemption, healing and restoration even if the physical manifestation of our suffering never goes away.
We receive comfort from two sources. From others and from Jesus.
Think about your own experiences of comfort for a minute. The first time you realized you were not alone in your suffering. The first time you spoke with someone who truly understood what you were going through. The first time you saw someone living joy in the midst of their pain. Maybe it didn’t change your circumstances, but didn’t the comfort bring hope? Hope that there is a path through the experience of your suffering and that there is life on the other side. That life may not look like your old life did, but it is life nonetheless.
Jesus also comes to bring comfort, if we will let him, for he will not act against our will.
In my own experience of fatherlessness, an experience that, while on the surface may seem trivial, constrained, disrupted, and opposed my life for over 50 years, it wasn’t until I allowed Jesus to comfort me it that place of wounding and brokenness with the comfort that came from his own experience of fatherlessness (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:24), that I found the comfort that birthed hope and set me on the path to life.
Not In Isolation
When we experience comfort it is not in isolation. We are comforted so that we may comfort others. If you have suffered and come out on the other side or are on the path to life - Remember. Remember. Remember.
Remember so you can comfort others. Remember so that you can be a spark of hope. Remember so the comfort you have experienced can well up within you to an overflow of comfort into the lives of others. As Bernard of Clairvaux said “If then you are wise, you will show yourself rather as a reservoir than as a canal. A canal spreads abroad water as it receives it, but a reservoir waits until it is filled before overflowing, and thus without loss to itself [it shares] its superabundant water.”
The giving and receiving of comfort is not a one way street. For, just as we are called to give the comfort we have received away freely; we must continue to allow ourselves to receive the comfort we need from others. It is only by being filled to overflowing with the comfort we receive from Jesus and others that we are then able to give it away freely and without loss.
Jesus himself demonstrated comfort over and over again throughout the Gospels. In both his joy and his suffering, Jesus overflowed with comfort and life so that everyone who encountered him in the midst of their suffering was comforted. Eugene Peterson put it this way “… he overflows with life in himself and therefore is able to give to us, not take from us; to complete us, not exploit us.” If we are to be followers of Jesus, we too must share the comfort we have received AND we must continue to allow ourselves to be comforted.
Many times, the sharing of comfort is not easy. Often, It requires an openness and inner strength feels akin to walking naked into you’re your children’s high school graduation. Sharing comfort also always requires intentionality. Comforting requires us to admit our weakness, acknowledge our pain, and to give away a piece of ourselves.
Giving comfort always requires. So, as I remember those who have comforted me and those who I have had the privilege to observe sharing their comfort with others, my heart overflows with thankfulness and praise.
Thankfulness for those who have had the courage to step out in love. Giving of themselves that I and others might, as Jesus said, “have life and have it abundantly.”
Praise to my God – Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit – the source and wellspring of all comfort and the recipient, in Jesus, of all suffering. For who has suffered more than the Lord Jesus Christ when he bore the sins of the world on the cross that we might be comforted.
As we head into Thanksgiving this year, I can think of no better way to express my thankfulness than to share the words of the Doxology.
“Praise God from whom all blessings flow! Praise him all creatures here below! Praise him above ye heavenly host! Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost! Amen!”
May the “God of all comfort” bless and comfort you. Pass it on. Godspeed!