Okay ladies, I have a question for you. For those who are in a dating relationship or have previously dated, what makes or made you and your partner compatible? Before you read on, think about it for a moment. I'll take it none of you responded, "we suffer well together." Sounds morbid, right? Actually, when my husband and I were dating we had a conversation about this. In a book he read called Becoming Compatible, the author noted, "The word compatible comes from the Latin word compati, which literally means 'to suffer with.' A couple who can suffer with each other is, in fact, the very definition of compatible." Other definitions of the Latin word are to "pity" or to "sympathize." Essentially, compatibility has to do with how well each other handles trials and supports the other in the midst of them. Not exactly a topic for a first date, but somewhere down the line this is a necessary conversation in your dating relationship.
Let's start with a clarification. Our suffering is not just for ourselves.
In God's design everything is communal, what we say or do affects those around us, whether we acknowledge it or not. Unfortunately, suffering is a consequence of sin entering into the world, we cannot escape it. Jesus reminded the disciples, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33 NIV). Jesus defeated the effect of sin - death - by proving it powerless over Him in His resurrection. The hope we have as Christians is not that we won't suffer, rather that we are more than conquerors in Christ Jesus because of what He has done. This means that what the enemy meant for evil, God uses it for our good. How does He do this? God "comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God." (2 Corinthians 1:3 NIV - italics added). God wants us to pay it forward, the refuge He provides us is not only for our own benefit, but we are to share the testimony of His comforting hand with others. This is how the body of Christ gains power and strength. This is how we come to know God.
If you know the story of Job in the Bible, you know that he is a man who endured intense suffering. Before we learn of his great loss, we are told of his great fortune. I'm sure he and his wife shared common interests, maybe they enjoyed taking trips to a local vineyard for wine tasting or taking long walks along their estate, counting the number of sheep, camels, oxen and donkeys they owned. But when all of that was taken away, including the death of their 10 children in just one day, as well as a disease afflicting Job's body with sores from his head to his feet, his wife's response to him was less than helpful: "Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!" (Job 2:9 NIV). Here we see a lack of compatibility (suffering with, sympathizing, etc.). Now don't get me wrong, she is definitely suffering too, and I don't pretend to know in the slightest bit what they were going through. I recognize it's easy to point fingers at his wife and label her as the problem, but for the sake of argument, what could have been her response if they were compatible in this situation? Without compromising honesty, maybe she could have said, "I can't believe you haven't given up hope with all that has happened, I am struggling to have faith in God, though we are in this together and your perseverance is encouraging."
While responding with compassion in the midst of suffering is a wonderful quality to have in a partner, one doesn't simply get there without understanding.
I have heard too many stories about Christian spouses leaving each other because of a cancer diagnosis or infertility. Being Christian isn't the antidote to suffering, knowing God is. When we dig below the surface, those who handle trials and suffering well are those who understand the nature of God and His promises. This requires spending time with the Lord and allowing Him to shape and mature you through the trials. At the end, Job starts listening to God and reflects on his newfound knowledge of Him,"my ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you" (Job 42: 5 NIV). Job isn't referring to seeing God in the flesh, rather seeing the work of God's hand over his life through his suffering. He then repents. Having the right view of God requires humility and courage, to be expectant that God truly does have your best in mind despite your circumstances, and that He will carry out His promises in your life.
I don't know the background of Job's wife or her faith journey, though I wonder how their story could have changed with a different response to suffering. My husband and I have very different backgrounds, he grew up in a rough neighborhood in the inner city and I grew up in the suburbs. The losses he has experienced from the death of loved ones far outweighs my own. At first this intimidated me, I wondered if I could be the supportive wife that he needed. But then I remembered that God is the supplier of comfort, not me. We are learning to receive comfort from the Lord in our alone time, meditating and praying, and then sharing with each other what God has spoken to us. If we don't go to God in the midst of suffering, the pain can bottle up and manifest as anger, resentment, bitterness, depression, etc., and the environment this creates is not conducive for a thriving relationship. Even before dating, my prayer for you is that your view of God is aligned with His true nature, then you can receive His comfort in suffering and share that comfort with others.
Work Cited: Gungor, Mark. Becoming Compatible. Life Discoveries, Inc., 2016.