10. School for Comforters

17 02 2018

Chapter 9: School for Comforters

— “Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 10 of 13 posts)

I would venture to say, most of us have been on the receiving end of a “comforting word” that wasn’t exactly comforting. I have certainly done my own bit of coming-alongside, only to walk away asking myself, “Why did you say that?” having dispensed some kind of awkward comfort. In this chapter, Edith Schaeffer begins by letting us know that God Himself will teach us in the area of comfort (169). The way we learn is through our own experience of sorrow or trouble in which comfort was needed and given but there is another side to it: “We have to recognize our need for comfort before we will let ourselves be comforted” (169).

Schaeffer says “we cannot know how to comfort anyone if we have never been comforted ourselves in some way” (170) and I find that to be an interesting thing to think about. I agree! As I look at my own life, when I have connected with someone walking through a time of affliction, I think of what has been meaningful to me when I have been afflicted; the kind of comfort, the type of life-giving words, and I am able to better offer the same. Walking through affliction and being open to the comfort of others has helped me to say and do things that are more “real.”

Psalms 34 says (I love the KJV translation for this verse), “many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all…the Lord redeemeth the soul of His servants, and none of them that trust in Him shall be desolate.” That is so beautiful. Our Lord is such an amazing counsellor and comfort! Schaeffer writes,

“There is a great difference between being comforted and being desolate. There is a difference as wide and deep as an ocean between our recognizing someone else’s need for comfort — because we have been comforted ourselves and can recognize the utter desolation of another’s moment of need — and our being cold and hard because we have never been comforted” (170).

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1 that we are comforted by Christ so that we can comfort those in any trouble “with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.”  The Bible reminds us that God is the “Father of compassion” and it is our God who makes us able to have compassion. Our God is also known as the “God of all comfort” — “There is no variety of comfort needed that He does not know about” (171).

“This is the One who, if we are His children…will comfort us in all our troubles. How? First of all we need to run to Him, not away from Him. And we need to not kick and fight and blame Him for our being hurt. We must come, trusting Him and ready to listen to His Word, as we climb on His lap and let Him speak to us through His Word. We can talk to Him. He listens to us. We can pour all our troubles and tell Him all our fears and doubts, as well as our love and trust…” (172).

I liked this line: “We come exactly as we are and tell Him the truth about our needs. He is patient with us in our trouble about the trouble — as well as in the trouble itself…” (172). If you stop and think about this, it isn’t just the pain of the trouble that bothers us, it is the fact that we have trouble at all, and maybe that particular trouble baffles us that we should be walking through it. Our Father deals with us tenderly about it all!

The comfort we receive then flows out of us. Shaeffer writes, “real comfort cannot be silently contained inside a person. There is a spilling over that causes that comfort to help someone else, as an overflowing supply of water would help a thirsty neighbour…this is to be a constatly repeated experience, the need for comfort and the giving of comfort to others. We are meant to be using our imaginations as to how to go about this practically, day by day” (173).

When we pray for others, this comes out of this heart of compassion! Paul says that as a result of our prayers, “many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour granted us in answer to the prayers of many” (2 Cor. 1):

“So prayer is one of the most important and continual parts of the variety of things we are to do in comforting each other in times of need. Prayer is not to be the only thing, but it seems to me that it is to be added to any other thing we do. It is something we can do when we are thousands of miles away from each other, which really makes a difference in the immediate situation” (173).

This chapter is titled the school for comforters, so we are learning about what it means to comfort others. We are opening our hands to comfort through our inevitable suffering. We will suffer and one of the GOOD byproducts is that we will also be comforted and learn how to comfort. In this chapter Schaeffer writes out a prayer for us,

“May I learn, dear Father, in today’s hard thing, that which You want to teach me, so that today’s school of comforters may have this pupil ready to put to use all that is being discovered” (183).

She writes,

“There is someone whose combination of needs will be what is closest to the things you are experiencing and through which you are finding that the Lord is sufficient in His comfort to keep you going. This is the present and immediate fulfillment of your present and immediate preparation. Comforting someone — with the comfort with which you and I have been comforted — speaks of specific situations and an immediate passing-on of the comfort” (183).

I love the last part of the chapter as Schaeffer talks about the role of a comforter to help people anticipate the “better day.”  I really believe that we do not recognize brokenness enough, call it what it is enough, and point to the day enough when all will be made new. Why has this hope faded into the background? Why are we not looking forward to when all things will be set right? This is one of my biggest comforts! To know this isn’t all there is and to allow myself that acknowledgement. Longing for what is to come does not mean we check out of the present, it actually is very freeing in the present to not pine away for what is not even possible here!

When I can acknowledge this world is a broken place, even the long journey seems less relevant than the final outcome. In my present situation two people close to my heart are not walking with Jesus. I desperately want them to because I want to share this in common. I want to have those deep conversations. I want to pray for them and be prayed for by them. I don’t want life to go by without that level of community. With each day that passes, I feel a tightness about another day gone. BUT…when I look at this from God’s view, our little life-times are a dot on the eternal timeline. Father, deliver them from evil so that we will have the long journey together, the eternal journey!

Shaeffer says there are “comforts to be talked about freely” (186), a conversation about what creation waits eagerly for, the day of liberation from our bondage to decay (Romans 8:17-25)…this thing we groan inwardly about on a daily basis, this hope we wait for patiently.

“What will it be like to have ‘the whole creation’ liberated?” (187)

“All of our talents as human beings will be freed from the hindrances and abnormalities brought about through the centuries following the Fall” (187).

As Schaeffer says, “it is a breathtaking restoration we contemplate” and it is this restoration we also bring into our comforting of others. Isaiah 51:11-16 says

“I, even I, am He who comforts you.
Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies
And of a son of man who is made [as destructible] as grass,
That you have forgotten the Lord your Maker,
Who stretched out the heavens
And laid the foundations of the earth,
That you continually tremble with fear all day long because of the rage of the oppressor,
As he takes aim to destroy?
And where is the rage of the oppressor?

The [captive] exile will soon be set free, and will not die in the dungeon, nor will his food be lacking. For I am the Lord your God, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—the Lord of hosts is His name. I have put My words in your mouth and have covered you with the shadow of My hand…”

To be a comforter, we must be comforted ourselves by our God’s saturation of comfort He offers us. We must receive it and be a student of it. I don’t know how you feel, but I usually feel that my words fall short, they fall flat if they are just of myself, just out of my own ability to be optimistic. There is a much deeper comfort and it is to this Well we go with our cup and ask the Lord to fill it so we can quench the thirst of another.

— Teresa Klassen

P.S. Thank you Edith for yet another great chapter. Your understanding of comfort, comforts me.

 

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