I am heartbroken. I just want to weep before the Lord for all the pain I see around me. I asked for this – I prayed that God would break my heart for what breaks His – and I know this is just a very small taste of the pain He feels for His children. There is so much suffering – in my immediate surrounded there has been terrible tragedy – the death of a young child in an accident, the deterioration of my father with Alzheimer’s, teenagers struggling with depression & self-harm. Cancer, incest, abuse, addiction and racism. I spent last weekend with Indigenous people desperately seeking reconciliation, mourning their murdered and missing sisters. So many broken hearts that need mending.
Casting the circle wider, our whole world is in pain. War and persecution, famine and drought, slavery and sex trafficking. So much evil. So much horror.
There are so many issues to address, wrongs to right, rants to rage, and prayers to cry. There is the failing of our churches, families, schools, social services, governments, our First World greed, over-consumption, and apathy, our arrogance, our hate, our indifference. There is so much pain.
With all this pain we need hope. With all this pain we seek to understand.
I want to help, to hold on, to lift up, to love.
But do I need to understand?
“You don’t understand” whether spoken out loud or in my heart, was probably one of my top ten phrases as a teenager. We do seek to be understood, and that doesn’t change much as we get older. But what we truly need is to be loved. I truly believe that “Nobody understands me” is the heart’s cry of “nobody loves me.”
In reacting to someone in an emotional crisis, I think we generally fall into two camps – “I understand” or “I don’t understand.” When I am in the first group I feel compelled to explain to you why I understand your pain by sharing my own experience of pain. I essentially offload my own baggage, and don’t really help you carry your own. One day it might be helpful and healing to sit down with me and have a conversation about how I dealt with my particular loss, but as a first response I do not need to prove that have my own pain. I don't need to prove I’ve gone through a trial of my own.
Telling my story of pain does not help to validate your feelings. My advice may not be welcome. Every situation and person is unique.
A brave woman in my community has dealt with this as she comes to terms with the loss of her young son. She contrasts helpful people who lend support with those people who add to her “boulder of grief” with their own story of pain:
“It is very encouraging, like a handful of balloons, to tell me "so-and-so also experienced the loss of [insert person/relationship here], but this is how they got through it." It is the opposite to share details of accidents, deaths, and trauma, even if the intention is trying to be encouraging by comparing my situation with theirs. (Though how it is supposed to help me deal with my own grief by simply knowing others have experienced similar or "more horrific" losses, I am not certain.)” http://www.talenawinters.com/wintersdayin/2015/6/18/boulders-and-balloons-when-sharing-isnt-caring
When I am on the “I don’t understand” side of things, I can’t relate to your experience – I haven’t had cancer, I haven’t lost a child, I am not a widow or a refugee. So I am afraid of saying the wrong thing, afraid of making things worse, so I avoid you. I assume I have nothing to offer and back away from you. I don’t get it, so I must not be qualified to offer up any help in your time of need. What on earth could I say to a woman whose husband cheated on her, or a mother who had a stillborn child? I have more questions than answers. I am afraid that my words would be hollow or inappropriate. I become awkward and distant. I don’t understand.
But my friends, God does not ask us to understand, He asks us to love. We’ve all gone through stuff and we have our own unique joys and pains. If I think I understand your pain, I need to love. One day there will be time for stories, time for questions, but today is the day to love. If I don’t think I understand your pain, I need to love. I may not have a clue about what you are experiencing, but God does, and God loves you. God knows each of us more than we can imagine. He knows the number of hairs on our heads. He knew us before we were formed in our mothers’ wombs. He created our DNA. He gave us our gifts and dreams. We need to celebrate & honour each other by listening to and loving each other.
You don’t have to prove that you understand, or wait until you think you understand. This is a broken world in need of blessing. Listen & love.
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” John 13.34