Understanding Beyond Experience

by Shane Wall

As followers of Jesus Christ, we have the responsibility to serve one another. To that end, God has given us the ability to transcend the limited capacity of our own experiences. We can minister to each other even without going through the same difficulties. The Word of God has given us the following command in the book of Romans.

Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty (snobbish, high­minded, exclusive), but readily adjust yourself to [people, things] and give yourselves to humble tasks. Never overestimate yourself or be wise in your own conceits. Romans 12:16 (AMP)

In helping each other, we must humble ourselves and seek to counsel each other whether or not we’ve faced the same difficulties as our neighbors.

I have the pleasure of pastoring a local church here in Orangeburg, SC. In all my years of pastoring, I’ve been approached countless times by members for consolation. When congregants first began to look to me for comfort, I often found myself astounded by the fact that I was easily able to console them without having gone through what they had experienced.

In one isolated instance, I was trying to provide solace to a woman who had decided to avoid attending church services because of the death of her three toddlers. She came to me weeping, her face contorted, yearning to have her precious babies back in her arms. I listened to her bawling outcries of despair, knowing I could provide her with little help other than prayer. One after the other, tears streamed down her face. Her sobs were loud, yet so meek in desperation. All she wanted was to see her children again. She knew I could do nothing, but she longed to talk to someone who would hear what she was going through. She wanted someone who could understand. I wanted to be that person.

I tried to support her the way anyone else would who hadn’t come face to face with such traumatic, life­ altering events. Patting her on the back, I said the only empathetic words I could think of: “I understand.”

I’ve never had a child who died. Actually, I’ve never had any children at all. I was completely out of touch with what she was going through. Nevertheless, I genuinely wanted her to know that I could relate to her pain. I wanted her to know she wasn’t alone. After my response, she looked up at me, her eyes angrily piercing in my direction. Her eyebrows furrowed, and her face tightened as she narrowed each eyelid, as if to look at me with only a small fraction of her sight.

She yelled in fury, “How dare you say you understand?! You’ve never gone through this before! How can you say that you understand what I’m going through?!”

I was taken aback. I thought that I was being compassionate, telling her what I knew would reassure her. What could my response be? That I was sorry? Or that I didn’t mean it? My intention was never to be insensitive. Since all my words were sincere, I didn’t feel as if I needed to apologize. I didn’t know what I should do. I was baffled.

Instead of apologizing, I said the only words I knew: “I understand everything you went through because I believe you.”

I continued, “I believe every wailing cry, every bitter tear, every painful memory, and every aching heartbeat. I haven't gone through what you have, but I believe with every bit of my being that what you have told me is true. I can understand because I believe you.”

I needed her to know that I cared for her. I wanted her to realize that God desired to call her to a place of comfort and peace. Fortunately, she accepted my explanation and grasped my expression of the only way I knew to possibly relate to her without my having had a similar experience.

I thank God that I was able to explain to her that we don’t have to be exposed to situations, events, or encounters to relate to them. All we simply need to do is believe what we are being told, and show compassion to the one in need. Who will you share your compassion with today?

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