Is there anything that the entire human race has in common?
We were raised with different values and different expectations. We have all had different experiences which color and shape the way in which we view the world. Even now, we are all walking through different stages of life each particular to our own set of circumstances, and interpreting those life experiences differently. Even in a homogenous group, there are still vast differences.
Of course, the more you break into relationships with people who don’t necessarily look like you, earn like you, or talk like you, the differences become all the most visible and apparent. So again the question – is there anything we all have in common?
There is at least this – pain. We all have that in common. Pain is the common denominator of humanity. If you doubt it’s true, consider with me the mental image of a hospital waiting room.
Most people have been in one at one time or another—waiting because your appendix is bursting, waiting because your kid has a gash that needs to be sewn up, waiting because a friend has been in surgery and you are holding vigil for her recovery. You wait. You wait alongside the smell of stale coffee, of Maury Povich on the hanging television set with the “Do not change channel” sign on it, of the pacing, bleary-eyed occupants clamoring for a doctor’s update.
In the waiting room, you wait alongside people of every race, culture, and economic background. You wait there together. In the waiting room all the things that separate people from each other tend to drift away. Somehow, in that small, glass-enclosed space you don’t seem so different from people of different nationalities. Or different social circles. Or different styles of dress. Or different languages. You hold one thing in common with everyone in that room—pain.
The pain takes different forms, sure. For some it’s the actual physical pain. For others, it’s the emotional pain of watching someone close to them suffer. But pain unifies every black, white, brown or otherwise colored person in that room. Regardless of where you come from, how insulated your lifestyle, how stable your finances, or how healthy your lifestyle, you will have a moment in the waiting room. And in that moment, none of that other stuff seems to matter very much. Everyone hurts in one way or another.
Indeed, pain is the common denominator of all humanity.
Now here’s the thing that tends to happen when we have something in common with someone else. Because we are sinful, our minds tend to drift toward comparison. If you have a house, you tend to compare your house to someone else’s. If you take a vacation, you tend to compare your vacation to someone else’s. Clothing, restaurant choices, vehicles – these are all sources for comparison. And so is our suffering. Along with everything else, we tend to compare our suffering to the suffering of another.
It’s easy to do that. It’s easy, for example, when you have what might be considered a trivial amount of pain in your life to compare yourself to someone else and to then have a brighter outlook on your own situation. It works the opposite way, too – when you are walking through an intense season of suffering, it’s easy to try and gauge how bad it really is by looking at someone else. But here’s the thing – in either case, comparing our suffering to the suffering of another is destructive to our souls.
Let’s play out each scenario. Let’s say that you have the flu, and it’s really miserable. But then you look to your neighbor who is undergoing chemotherapy treatments. The end result of doing so is self-reliance – you lift up your chin, and grin, and trust that you are strong enough to walk through this temporary ailment.
Or let’s say that you are undergoing chemotherapy, and someone around you is complaining because they have the flu. The end result then, if you engage in the comparison, is to lose compassion for your neighbor. In either case, the comparison is harmful – it either boosts your ego or hardens your heart.
So what do we do, then, with this suffering? What do we do with this pain? We do the same thing we do in all other aspects of life – we take our eyes off ourselves, and we fix them firmly on Jesus. In so doing, we take our suffering, regardless of what it is, to our Father. We talk to Him about it. Again and again. And when we do, a funny thing happens.
Having approached the throne of grace, we are then equipped to look to our neighbor. Not in comparison, but instead in compassion. Not in judgment, but in grace. We live what Paul tells us is one of the redemptive purposes of our pain: “Blessed be 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” (2 Cor. 1:3-5).
Yes, your neighbor has pain. As do you. But don’t compare your suffering to that of another. Take it to your Father, and extend the comfort you find from Him.