Suffering deserves the dignity of recognition
Suffering is everywhere. As it gets louder it demands our attention. It shouldn’t have to demand, but we’re so practiced at looking away that sometimes suffering must get loud enough for us to actually notice its presence.
Suffering cannot be alleviated unless we first acknowledge it exists. It has to be named. In Grace Like Scarlett I talk about “naming our suffering” and why giving language to it matters—naming it validates its reality.
“No matter what form it takes, suffering commands our attention. It will not be alleviated by comparison to greater or lesser suffering, or even your perception of it. Pain is pain and it deserves the dignity of recognition, for that is where healing begins.” —Adriel Booker, Grace Like Scarlett
Naming our suffering is critical, but it’s not everything. Once it’s named then we must be willing to enter into it alongside one another. This is the incarnation—bringing our actual bodies to the spaces where suffering is and doing our part to alleviate it. This is the power of the incarnate Jesus. It’s exactly what he came to show us to do. It’s meant to be our way of being in the world—a demonstration of what “entering into suffering” with others actually looks like.
This does not mean positioning ourselves as saviors or experts—when we do that we perpetuate subjugation. What I’m talking about is incarnational, humble, co-suffering love which gives birth to justice (and ultimately, peace).
Make no mistake, what we’re seeing in protests around the world in this cultural moment is the naming of suffering—a community giving themselves permission to suffer out loud and keep going until someone pays attention. This movement is being led by Black brothers and sisters and their suffering is giving us the opportunity to say: I see you. I see your suffering. I hear your pain. I can’t heal you but I know my recognition is a good place to start.
You cannot reconcile when you’re unwilling to admit that relationship was never there in the first place. My Indigenous Australian brothers and sisters have taught me this. Reconciliation without recognition is impossible, so this is me saying: I recognize.
I recognize your pain.
I recognize your suffering.
I recognize my complicity.
I recognize my privilege.
I recognize responsibility.
I recognize our reality (and I’m still learning how different mine is to yours).
I recognize my need to pay closer attention.
I recognize that it’s not my clumsiness over issues of race that is the problem, but it’s my fear of making mistakes and being found to be racist.
I recognize my own fragility.
I recognize this cannot be about me denying racism but that I can declare myself willing to engage in the active work of becoming anti-racist (and I’m starting to understand the difference).
I recognize this is a life or death situation.
I recognize the urgency.
Pain demands attention. Suffering deserves the dignity of recognition. Let its demand not be in vain. And let us not stop short by patting ourselves on the back for to beginning to recognize. This is our call to incarnational co-suffering love that births justice and leads to peace.
This is our call to do better.
Resources for growth:
There are a lot of excellent resources out there to get started with actively learning about these issues. Here is where I would personally recommend to start:
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice Resources – Compiled by Common Grace
Be the Bridge – Free training and facebook group
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right: Lisa Sharon Harper with foreword by Walter Brueggemann