As a Christ in the City missionary, you meet suffering head-on constantly. While it’s never easy, the impact of the blow is lessened a bit in the sense that you can expect it. What happens though, when you encounter suffering when you’re not in “missionary mode”? When you suddenly encounter suffering via the person flying a sign at the street corner, the cashier at the grocery store, or someone at work… what happens then? Though there’s no hard and fast formula, my time with Christ in the City as a missionary has taught me 5 things that I think it’s important to keep in mind:

  1. Everyone is facing a battleMy time on the streets as a missionary was a continually humbling experience. While I thought I had a gauge on what led a person into homelessness, I was time and time again surprised once I heard their story. The same is true of every person. You don’t know why that person is flying a sign on the street corner, why that cashier was rude to you, or what is going on in your co-worker’s life that lies underneath their curt email. What you do know is that every person, no matter how seemingly great or small, is carrying a cross.
  2. Remember that everyone is pursuing what they believe to be good. The desire for goodness is written on the human heart. The majority of things that humans do are done because they believe them to be good.
  3. Realize that bad behaviors are a coping mechanism. In my psychological studies, I was taught that everything that the person does when they are alone is a means of coping. Think about it, everyone is either addicted or strongly habituated to something – coffee, sugar, texting, social media, or exercise, just to name a few. We do or consume these things to help us cope with the daily demands of life. The same is true of explicitly bad habits – alcoholism, drugs, marijuana, etc. They are used as a means of coping. Rather than judging the act, know that there is a reason behind the act and seek to empathize with it.
  4. Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries. If you’re anything like me, you see suffering, and your first reaction is to go into fix-it mode. Do not take on another person’s problems or suffering as your own. We are called to accompany others in their struggles and help shoulder their crosses, not completely remove them. We are actually doing that person a disservice if we try to.
  5. Ask God for help. God has such a beautiful and infinite love for each and every one of us. Being present to suffering is hard and uncomfortable. When you feel yourself fall short, ask God to fill your heart with His love for that person. Trust that he will give you the wisdom in that moment to know what to say or what to do.

We are all called to see Christ in others as well as be witnesses of Him in return. Nowhere else is Christ as present as in the midst of suffering. Don’t run from it or wish it away. Rather, with the guidance of these 5 tips gained through continual encounters with it, you will be more equipped to embrace it when it inevitably comes your way.

Abby is from St. Paul, MN. She served with Christ in the City from 2012-2015, both as a missionary and on staff. She is currently a student of Divine Mercy University and will graduate in May 2019 with an M.S. in Counseling. She enjoys writing, traveling, and spending time with her family, especially her 7 nieces and nephews.