Editor’s Note: The September issue of The Lutheran Witness taught on the Ars Moriendi, the art of dying well. In a question and short answer format, the LCMS’s experts in dying — her pastors — answered a series of 17 questions, fears, doubts and temptations that Christians face as they approach death. We could not fit all the answers in the magazine.
Here’s an answer to the fear of sharing one’s suffering with loved ones. It’s written by the Rev. Tab Ottmers, who serves Immanuel Lutheran Church, Fairview, Texas.
Visit cph.org/witness to subscribe to The Lutheran Witness and read the rest of the September issue.
by Tab Ottmers
My body is diseased, and I am suffering with an illness, but I do not want to burden my children or my church with it. I have not told them because I do not want them to suffer with me.
With all the bad news in the world this sentiment is understandable. Who wants to bring more bad news? While God does not command us to share a diagnosis nor our suffering with others, Paul says, “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” (2 Cor. 1:3–4).
Paul assumes that we would share our sufferings with one another so that we may comfort each another. The baptized children of God have the joy and privilege to walk alongside one another “knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:3–5).
We share our challenges and difficult times with one another so we may pray and encourage one another in the resurrection of Christ Jesus. We can speak forgiveness to one another and pray for one another. Would you also not want to know if a dear friend or family member was suffering so you could attend to them and pray for them?
When you share your sufferings with your children, it gives them the opportunity to obey the Fourth Commandment in showing honor to your office as parent. When they can walk with you through your suffering, they honor God by serving you. Your fellow brothers and sisters in the faith are able to obey the Fifth Commandment by helping and serving you in your bodily needs.
Praying for and sacrificing for one another does not hinder our faith but teaches us to forsake ourselves and trust in Christ all the more. Consider the promises of God involving prayer: “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (1 John 5:14). He is with you and promises “the Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Rom. 8:26).
Whether or not you share your diagnosis or suffering with others does not change the fact that Christ Jesus has died for your sins and been raised for your justification. Your suffering does not invalidate your salvation but St. Paul writes, “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17).