Sharing Other’s Suffering

Sharing another’s suffering is one of the most intimate things we can do. It is easy to be with another in their joy. It is a much harder task to be with someone as they cry out in pain or misery or suffer in silence as their spirit is ripped to shreds and they feel that the light will never come out again. So often, when we see someone else in pain, we want to fix things. We want to make the pain go away. Sometimes, we can. Other times, we have nothing to offer but our presence. It is important to realize how much a gift that can be.

Christ suffers in solidarity with every soul, and we can suffer in solidarity with Him. We are never alone, though we may feel forsaken. Christ shows us that He is one with us in our sorrow and pain, no matter how alone we feel. We are all wounded, broken, suffering in some way, and even the pain we bring upon ourselves, He shares. He MUST share, because love is revealed fully when we share another’s suffering.

We cannot eliminate suffering in this life; there are times when we can partially alleviate another’s suffering, but our proper response to suffering is to simply be with, be for, the suffering person. The answer to suffering is always an experience of grace and unconditional acceptance. The answer to suffering is love – – Kathryn Mulderink, His Suffering and Ours.

As parents, part of our job is to try to alleviate our child’s suffering. When babies cry, we rock them or feed them or change their diaper. As children grow older, if they are physically injured, we may kiss the “boo boo” or apply a bandage, or take them to a doctor if the situation warrants. There are times, however, when we are powerless to take away their pain. They may have been hurt by a friend or be frustrated by their own limitations. They may have a broken heart or failed to make a sports team that they desperately wanted to belong to. They may have made a really dumb decision and now are forced to face the consequences. Any number of situations may have caused them to suffer, and all we can do is to be there with them in the pain. We can hold them and be a shoulder to cry on. We can be the safe place to vent and allow them to express their anger. We can share our own stories of pain and help them know that eventually things will get better.

As adults, with our spouses and other friends, sharing another’s pain most often involves being a good listener. This seems like it should be so easy, but it often isn’t. Yes, we can sometimes do things to help alleviate another’s suffering and if it is within our power to do so, we should. More often, however, the pain is not something easily fixed. Adults suffer from scars of childhood, the pain of failed or damaged relationships, from addictions, and psychological imbalances, from fear and worry, and a lack of hope. We suffer from physical ailments and the realization that we are getting older and stress from having too much to do. Most of those things are outside of our power to fix for another person or even for ourselves. Most people simply want someone else to acknowledge their pain, to be with them as they try to sort it all out, and make it through to another tomorrow. Love asks this of us. Christ asks this of us. Even the Son of God himself felt alone in his suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane. He wanted his closest friends to simply be with him, to help him pray and make it through. They let him down.

Who do you know who is hurting today? Will you be with them in their hour of need?

Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur


Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur writes from western Massachusetts where she lives with her husband and two sons. A Senior Editor with Catholic, she blogs at

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  • Claire

    Very well said. People are so quick to abandon those who suffer. A colleague of mine (who I don’t know very well) lost her only child in a car accident two years ago. She is now alone in the world, and the colleagues who work more closely with her than I do just don’t want to hear it anymore. I don’t see how someone could ever be expected to fully recover from that type of loss, let alone just two years later. This woman deserves a lot of credit for being able to get out of bed in the morning and get herself ot work. I wish I knew her well enough to provide some support.

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  • papachick

    Thank you for this clearly-written article. Our prayer group receives several new requests every week to pray for people who are suffering. Part of the natural human response is “Why me?” I think what you have written here will be very helpful to those who suffer as well as those who open themselves to share in the suffering of others. Perhaps not everyone has the spiritual preparation to be like Anne Catherine Emmerich, but anyone can feel a pang in the heart for another’s pain of any kind. That intimacy, as you describe it here, is a sure connection to the reality of being created in the image of God whose intimacy with our suffering is perfect. – MBN