When I say I understand your pain…
I’m not saying that our pains are the same.
I’m not saying that your pain is less than mine.
I’m not trying to one-up or compare myself to you.
I’m not trying to be condescending or pitying.
What I *am* doing is trying to give you what I really, really wish people would give to me, and that’s love. I don’t want people to say they exactly understand my exact pain, but I want to hear that I’m not alone in being in pain. I want to know I’m not the only one who’s vulnerable and scared, not the only one who knows what it’s like to beg God for death and yet beg Him to let you live, that I’m not totally lost in the dark of suffering. I want to know that I’m still lovable and connectable even when I feel totally dark and scared and hurt.
Pain is isolating, precisely because it’s so unique to its victims. And that isolation can sometimes drive people to do awful things, so I try to not be alone with it by trying to make sure nobody else is alone in it. And ultimately, I want to point people to the one person who can understand exactly what pain we’re in, because He knows everything about us. Thankfully, He also understands what it means to suffer. I understand the state of pain, but Christ understands the exact particulars. So I’m not saying I’m just like you. I’m saying He’s just like us.
A lot of people think of the words “take up your cross and follow me” (Matt 16:24) as a scary abstraction. They find the idea of a cross terrifying, because crosses are rightly seen as instruments of torture and despair. Even Christ begged to be let out of His passion! Crosses are scary, and following Jesus means more than even just a crucifixion. It means being crucified even after intense suffering, like the icing on a particular awful cake. It means carrying a cross on a back that’s been torn apart by whips, with bruised knees and a broken nose and absolute exhaustion in body and soul, and then STILL being killed on it. Crosses seem so hopeless. But they still have a small hope in them, that after the way of the cross ends, there’s always a resurrection. We’re not called to not be afraid of our crosses, especially those of us whose crosses are more literal, because crosses will always be terrifying. We’re called to have hope, even in the middle of that fear, that the cross is what’s going to get us to heaven. It’s a scary road, but it’s the only one we can follow if we ever want to be happy.
I don’t want to understand your pain. I don’t want you to really understand mine. I want all of us to understand His, because He’s the only one who understands ours. And, if we can understand His, we understand that all pain eventually leads us to somewhere painless, if we follow Him on that road. My love is imperfect, and selfish, and weak. His is not. But if my pitiful love can get someone, anyone, to understand His a little better, then it isn’t totally useless.
I have a lot of thoughts about suffering, and those thoughts shouldn’t be discounted merely because I haven’t felt literally every kind of suffering the world has to offer. But my own experiences do give me the ability to speak about pain in general, and especially about the One who makes all pain worthwhile. No, I cannot claim to know exactly what you’re feeling or why, but I can offer to share what little hope I’ve found on my way of the cross. That’s what I’m saying.
(Note: This is going to be the first in a series in which I respond to three things I hear a lot. The first is that I can’t say I understand other people’s pain, the second is that I’m too happy to really be hurt, and the third is that people think they can’t talk about their problems around me because mine are so big. These all require answers so that I don’t hurt anyone, and nobody hurts me. So keep your eyes open for more!)
Love to all!