But suffering is also personal. It is always a "someone" who suffers, especially when we consider the deepest part of suffering which is the "WHY?" that comes forth from it. Each person experiences that "why?" for themselves, as related uniquely to themselves.
Nevertheless we can accompany another person in their suffering, we can "share" the journey of suffering in different ways and on different levels. We can choose to "suffer-with" another person by embracing our own afflictions "with them" in solidarity. Going even further, we can freely choose to consider their experience as if it were our own, and to let ourselves be afflicted with them. That is what we call "compassion."
Real compassion is not sentimental or condescending. It is companionship, co-suffering, a sharing of vulnerability that our common humanity makes possible and that our freedom actualizes through a genuine and profound gift of self.
It's hard to explain compassion in theoretical terms. But life and its pains and frustrations teach us that compassion is real and that we need it. We wouldn't be so disappointed by false or inadequate "compassion" if it weren't for the fact that we need the real thing. But real compassion is often misunderstood, unappreciated, or even resisted: it's only later on (sometimes much later on) that we realize how much certain persons have "been there" with us, how much they have endured, how we have been sustained and carried by them.
In fact, we've carried one another. The person who shows compassion also receives compassion, and the one who suffers is also a "gift" even when he or she is helpless. Compassion generates relationship and community. This is a mystery.
Indeed, it is a great mystery to be created persons, made for love and called to be transformed by a love that is both the deepest source of our own being and a transcendence beyond the whole created universe.
These are mysteries that make me feel very small, and yet under the burden of suffering--my own or someone else's for whom I have compassion--I cannot help looking to God and showing Him my pain, hoping, longing, for healing.
And I believe that God has entered into the very center and heart of the whole business of suffering and compassion. Not only because He IS Love and Compassion, but because God has accomplished this, in history, as a man.
I believe in His great compassion that leads us through death to eternal life, though I can't say that I have anything like an understanding of how it actually "works" for me and those who have been entrusted to my own poor compassion. I have only begun to have a sense of confidence about the deep strength of it all (and it always seems to be "at the beginning").
But I have enough to know that it's worth it to hang on to Jesus, come what may.