The past few weeks have produced pain in my soul like no other. My friend Erik (faithful husband of my dear friend Kelly) has been suffering with brain cancer for the past year and a half, and in the last few weeks, the doctors have given him a grim prognosis. He has been in hospice for the past two weeks, and as a help and encouragement to Kelly and their families, several of us have been organized into shifts so there are always at least two people with them. At a time like this, they shouldn’t be alone.

What’s so interesting to me, though, is that at a time like this, none of us wants to be alone.

When I get up early or stay up late to go to the hospice center, I think it’s as much for me as for them. Of course I really do want to be an encouragement and source of strength to Erik and Kelly and their families. But I need to be there with them; I need to run errands and get drinks and read scripture. If I couldn’t be there holding Erik’s hand or praying with Kelly, I don’t think I could make it through this time.

Being in community with people means the trials the Lord brings us through aren’t ours alone — no one is sanctified in isolation. As I’ve sat with many people over the last few days just waiting for a chance to help, I’ve seen how the Lord is using Erik and Kelly’s suffering in all of our lives. We’re wrestling with faith and prayer, believing God could miraculously heal Erik and hoping our faith will endure if he doesn’t. The Lord is fine-tuning our priorities and reminding us that Jesus suffered in a physical body. He’s bringing unity among people who’ve never met and teaching us to love by serving. Mostly, as our corporate presence has become unending, God is impressing on our hearts that Jesus is always with us. His presence a constant reminder of his faithfulness.

The Lord certainly is using Erik and Kelly’s suffering for something greater than the personal growth of their friends. But His purposes are not less than that. And Erik and Kelly wouldn’t want it any other way.

“If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing.” — 1 Corinthians 12:26, The Message