If I’m me and your you then what does that make me?
(please note: this post is about my journey with words and empathy. It is not directed at anyone else. In fact, all I’ve ever received from any of you are kind, sweet, and encouraging comments. And for that…THANK YOU!)
Comparison is such a slippery slope. It’s so easy to state, “I totally relate” or “you and I are alike” or “I remember when I went through that (insert anything) struggle.” These phrases, in and of themselves are harmless. But sometimes, those simple words can hurt or minimize those receiving them. Never intentionally. I think that we look for ways to relate to others and it’s easy to take our life experiences, or moods, or personality and compare them with someone else. When we see a parallel, then it’s also just as simple to make a connection, a comparison and think that we’ve got them (or ourselves) figured out. Again, nothing wrong with making a parallel. The danger, to me, comes when our words effectively box someone else or their trials or journey or just life into a certain position. A position that we, as the observer, claims to understand. A position, that I am trying to sort out in my own life. It’s that line of being empathetic and yet not assuming that I totally get it. I tend to want to state that I understand, and yet, I’m starting to realize that those words are more to make me at ease…and less about seeking to understand the other’s heart.
As an example, my blogging pal carissa @ lowercaseletters, just posted about having to go in and get an annual check for cancer. Her father died from cancer when she was young. My husband had cancer. You’d think it would be an easy connection…cancer…right? Yet the words, “I totally understand,” wouldn’t work. Even though I’ve experienced cancer I don’t understand the complexity of her feelings right now. For me to tell her that I get it might lead to a feeling of frustration on the receiving end. How could I get that? I can’t. I get cancer from my own paradigm. I have a heart that emphasizes for those on a cancer journey. Instead I’ve learned to add the words, “in my house” (thank you to my friends at momys for that phrase) or “in my life” or “in my heart” to a statement or comment.
In my house, I understand how vicious and mean cancer is. I understand watching someone I love go through medical crisis. I understand intense financial pressure. But I do not understand having a parent die. I simply don’t. So my comments, my words are less of comparison and more about empathy…understanding the other’s heart.
It’s so easy to seek out someone who seems to be just like us. We start to compare and contrast lives and stories. I know I’ve gone through times where I desperately want that connection. And we need connections. Trust me. That’s why there are support groups, and online forums, and Caribous coffees for crazy moms like me to gather. But, in the same breath, the Lord has made us all unique…individuals. Think of the snowflakes. Not one alike. Even though they’re piled on the same hill, they all have their own individual beauty. Their own stories. My story is uniquely me. Your story you. When we appreciate the value in hearing someone else’s words and take the words without comparing them to ourselves, and identifying ourself based on others, we find this freedom. It’s less about self, and more about others. More about wanting to understand their heart, their point of view, their lives. And less about imposing our own self onto them. It frees us to keep our identity rooted in Christ, and not in them.
I don’t know why I wrote this. I know I’ve compared myself many, many, many times. And sometimes I try to compare because I don’t know what else to say. I’m stumped, I want to help, but I’m frozen. I’m soooo far from getting this right. Truthfully, sometimes, in the midst of being vulnerable, I think the best replies are those that thank the person for sharing their heart. Honesty is so crucial in this world. Telling someone that you are so sorry, and that you can’t begin to understand the difficulty of this journey, and asking them how you can help, or what to pray can go so far. Maybe it’s just about embracing another’s gifts. Not needing to line them up and compare with our own. It’s about being so rooted in Christ that we see the beauty in their story…their journey. We can take our connections that we have, our parallels, and use them to build up, to edify, to encourage. We can be piled together on the same hill, but ultimately we’re all unique. It’s about seeking to understand….to listen….to be real.
I love my blogging pals. I love my friends. And I love reading your stories. Thank you for sharing glimpses of your lives and hearts with me. I am pushed by your honesty, and motivated by your courage, and humbled with your truths. I’ve laughed and cried over your words. Seriously…thank you. I appreciate you.
Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body…. Romans 12:4-5a