When people we love are suffering, how can we help? How can we care like Christ? We uncover amazing examples of moving beyond suffering to God’s healing hope in the narratives of The Heroes of Black Church History.
Encountering Every Misery for You
Olaudah Equiano’s empathy for his sister was Herculean (read From Victim to Victor for part one of Equiano’s narrative).
“Yes, thou dear partner of all my childish sports! thou sharer of my joys and sorrows! happy should I have ever esteemed myself to encounter every misery for you, and to procure your freedom by the sacrifice of my own!”
What a model of incarnational suffering. In his letter of spiritual consolation to his long-lost sister, Equiano does more than say, “I understand your feelings.” He does more than say, “I feel what you feel.” He says, “I am willing to take on your pain—to encounter your every misery for you.
Equiano is reminiscent of the Apostle Paul who, in Romans 9:2-3, shares his great empathy and unceasing anguish for his Jewish brethren—feeling their feelings. In this passage, Paul wishes himself accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of his brothers—encountering their misery for them.
Like Paul and Equiano, we are to be “Jesus with skin on.” As Jesus pitched his tent among us, took on flesh, assumed the very nature of a servant, was made in human likeness, and became sin for us, so we must intimately engage our spiritual friends. Aloof, detached, arms-length ministry is neither biblical nor historical.
Hope Deferred Makes the Heart Sick: Candor
Eventually Equiano was sold to a wealthy widow with a son his age. After two months, he began to settle in, hoping that he had found a form of stability with his new family. However, his hope vanquished when he was stolen again. He rehearses his immeasurable despondency grasping for words to communicate what exceeds human language.
“Thus, at the very moment I dreamed of the greatest happiness, I found myself most miserable: and seemed as if fortune wished to give me this taste of joy only to render the reverse more poignant. The change I now experienced was as painful as it was sudden and unexpected. It was a change indeed from a state of bliss to a scene which is inexpressible by me . . . and wherein such instances of hardship and fatigue continually occurred as I can never reflect on but with horror.”
Have you been there? At the moment of your greatest happiness, life intrudes. Misery waltzes in. The poison of misfortune spoils your banquet of joy. If so, then what? Pretend? Ignore? Seek a diversion?
Equiano chooses candor. He chooses journaling. Both wise choices. Hope deferred makes the heart sick. Heart sickness requires the biblical medicine of candor both with God and with self. Very often, such candor is most effective when pen hits paper and we write with honesty about the instances of hardship and fatigue that we experience.
It was during these evil circumstances, and many more to come, that Equiano acknowledged his heavenly Father’s good heart and Christ’s merciful providence in every occurrence of his life.
Join the Conversation
Who is “Jesus with skin on” for you? How does this person minister to you? How can you be “Jesus with skin on” for people in your life?
Note:This series for Black History Month is excerpted from Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care. To learn more and to read a sample chapter visit Beyond the Suffering.