You never know who you’re going to meet at Target.
Since I’m usually out with my extroverted kids, we make many friends on ordinary errands. One day while browsing the dollar section, three kids in tow, I met a woman anxiously awaiting news from her daughter, who was sitting in an ultrasound room about to hear her baby’s heartbeat for the first time. It was no ordinary appointment, since this was not her daughter’s first ultrasound. It was her third, and all she was hoping for was a good, steady heartbeat.
As the woman walked away, tears filled my eyes. I looked at my cart full of boys and remembered my own agonizing moments in the ultrasound chair, praying, hoping, begging God for a heartbeat. Twice I’ve heard one. Twice I haven’t. Even though I didn’t know the woman or her daughter, I felt a kinship with them. We had fellowship because of a shared experience, one of loss and grief.
Suffering does that to you. It brings you to your knees in desperation, but it also brings you into community with other sufferers. After our second miscarriage, I needed medicine to speed up the miscarriage, so I went to my local pharmacy to fill the prescription.
As I signed for it, the pharmacy technician asked me the usual questions, one of which was, “Are you pregnant?” Awkwardly, I answered, choking back tears, “I was. I need this medicine to speed up the miscarriage.” She whispered the words “I’m sorry” and then processed my order. Then she paused and said, “It never gets easier, does it?” And I knew what she meant. She went on to tell me she had lost two pregnancies and was never quite able to say, “Yes, this gets easier.”
Right there, in the checkout line at the pharmacy, I was comforted. And I had fellowship.
Fellowship of Suffering as Female Discipleship
Women experience this fellowship in unique ways. The varied changes of our bodies over the years, the seasons we walk through, and the challenges we encounter as women create a sisterhood that, for the believer, is bound by our common bond in Christ.
We were not made to suffer alone any more than we were made to walk through life alone. In Christ, we have a beautiful family to share this life with. I may have found fellowship in Target in the immediate, but in the context of my local church I have found even more. Women have cried with me, prayed with me, sent Scripture to me, and served me—all under the fellowship of our shared suffering as believers who have a future hope. And I’ve been able to do the same for others. Women need to know they don’t suffer alone.
Fellowship of Suffering as Christ’s Beloved
But what happens when there’s no fellowship with other people? Sadly, not everyone is in a church situation where they can experience this likeminded fellowship in their suffering. Where is one to go?
In Philippians 3:10–11, Paul speaks of sharing in the sufferings of Christ. When we suffer, we are connected to him in both life and his death. He suffered to secure us as his people (Heb. 13:12; 1 Pet. 2:21), so when we suffer we know no amount of suffering will separate us from his love (Rom. 8:38–39).
Our suffering gives us fellowship with him because we know no one suffered more than he did. Understanding Jesus’s suffering radicalizes our understanding of our own. Yes, it’s painful. Yes, the feelings and emotions are often legitimate and real. But we are never alone.
As Christians, our suffering brings us into a fellowship with our Savior and Friend. He knows more than we do what our trials feel like. He gladly bore them when he didn’t deserve them. He has brought us into his fellowship of suffering as a sympathetic and caring Savior. And he is preparing a better place for us.
Fellowship of Suffering in Future Glory
Thankfully, our fellowship with him is not isolated to our present suffering. We get to share in his glory, too. Just as our Savior was brought from sorrow and grief and pain to heavenly glory, so we also will experience the same (1 Pet. 4:13).
When we see our suffering as a gateway into greater fellowship with Christ, both now and forever, we are able to embrace it and thank God for it. If we fight against it, run from it, or grow bitter because of it, we miss a crucial component of our sanctification. Suffering prunes. It strips us of our sin and makes us more like Christ. But it also prepares us for greater glory yet to be realized. When we share in the sufferings of Christ, the fellowship we experience with him in the deepest pain is only a foretaste of the unending fellowship we will one day enjoy in glory.
And that is what we are waiting for.
I got a little taste of the earthly fellowship of suffering that morning at Target. But I also got a taste of the joy that follows sorrow. Moments after walking away from our conversation, the beaming grandmother proudly came back to tell me, with tears in her eyes, that all was well with her new grandbaby.
Fellowship of suffering and fellowship of joy kissed in the Target aisle. It was a small taste of the fellowship we experience with our Savior both now and forever. Our suffering is never in vain. It always has a purpose. And it always happens with a Friend.