Jim often responds to my description of my feelings with something along the lines of, “… everyone feels that way.” This used to infuriate me. It seemed harsh and as though it minimized my astronomical problems into something generic and unimportant. There was a time it just felt unkind to me for him to respond that way, however, I have come to understand it as one of the greatest kindnesses anyone has ever done for me. What I’ve come to see is that I have this habit of trying to let my problems be the defining source of my individuality. No one understands me, no one can truly help me, because no one in the known universe has been through what I am going through as me. Maybe they have experienced something similar, but they aren’t me so they can’t possibly know what I feel and understand.
I AM A UNIQUE AND DELICATE SNOWFLAKE!!
Over time “everyone feels that way” stopped sounding so harsh and started making me think about something other than myself. If everyone felt the same way, even if those feelings manifest in different ways, it meant that we could relate to one another, rather than be isolated in our own snowflakey corners and that according to scripture our differences make us a part of a greater whole, not an island unto ourselves.
1 Corinthians 12: 12-26 says,
12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free-and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.
And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
I think Christians have formed a bad habit of doing exactly what I was doing with myself… catagorizing people by their problems and concluding that they have nothing to offer to people who’ve had different struggles than there own. I’ve heard church leaders suggest things like no one can minister to, say, the victim of sexual abuse the way that another victim of sexual abuse can, and at this point I have to strongly disagree with that. I don’t mean this to sound like a minimization, but pain is pain. We all have it, and what we need isn’t painkiller, what we need is relationship. What Paul is telling us is that the best relationships aren’t necessarily between things that are identical and that all of our pain boils down to broken relationships. I certainly have known the comfort that comes from relating to someone who’s pain has been similar to my own, however, a lot of the most healing relationships I’ve been in, have been with people who’s pain is completely different. And not just because their response to me is different than it would be if they had “walked a mile in my shoes”, although that certainly gives sight to some of my blind spots, but it’s been in stepping outside of myself and trying to relate to them. I get out of my own head and my own pain, and I see how they hurt and because I know what it feels like to hurt, it doesn’t so much matter that I know exactly what it feels like to be in their circumstances, so much as I know that it matters to walk beside them, to be their friend.
I don’t say this lightly, because as I’ve pointed out, I am guilty of it in my own life, but thinking this way isn’t just selfish, it’s lazy. It gives us permission to stay safely within our area of comfort, never having to really get messy.