I don’t remember the first time I felt alone in pain and wrong for feeling it, but I can tell you there have been many times in my life that it’s been true. That isn't to say that I haven’t been loved or supported in painful and difficult situations, but it is to say that in general people don’t know what to do with it.
I have also found this basic principle to be true in the work that I do as a counselor. Most folks are so very tired and weary from feeling alone and misunderstood. We humans are fragile creatures and we tend to shy away from the messy stuff, especially if it can’t be fixed.
And if anything on this earth is messy, it is pain.
I don’t care what caused it, once you begin experiencing it there is usually no ‘band aid’ relief. Typically, true acceptance and healing only comes with allowing the God-given process of grief to run its course.
However, often in our need to keep things looking "clean" (from the perspective of the supporter), we end up invalidating the person experiencing the pain or running them over with the “three easy steps” to feeling better. I believe this is because we desperately want each person to be well, but we are intimidated by their pain and grief and thus feel we cannot help. Sadly, at just the time when being supported feels the most necessary that tends to be when a person feels most alone.
I believe this is one of the central experiences that keep people, even and especially Christians, feeling isolated.
Recently in church, I re-heard this verse referring to Jesus…“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Isaiah 53:3
...from whom men hide their faces? Wow, talk about being isolated while in pain.
And yet, when I heard this my heart wanted to slowly exhale and cry at the same time. It causes me to think of all my experiences of deep grief, isolation and criticism. There is shame and sorrow that grows in the belief that we are not worth connection.
The thing about our human experience is that we so often feel alone in it. This drives us to do a lot of things that we usually end up regretting. It can drive us to create false relationships with others because we believe that fake connection is better than none at all. It can cause us to believe we need to perform or act “good enough” to be loved. This is because we were made to be known. We were made to share our journey with others, but in an authentic way. This is one of the core things we need as people.
So as I reflect on the verse from Isaiah, my heart is deeply encouraged. Isaiah was prophesying regarding a future savior that would experience these things. Amazingly, Jesus did come and go through these hardships. And because of these hardships and his death on the cross, he allowed each of us the opportunity to be made right with God. I am so grateful that Jesus came and bore this pain. And, I believe that there are important theological implications from his sacrifice.
But there are relational implications, too.
He joined us. Please don’t miss this. He did not remain separate and far off. He jumped into the mess and valued us enough to know our experience. Jesus has known the kind of pain that you and I have. When the author of Hebrews says “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15), this is what he is saying.
Where do we go with this? I believe there are two important pieces. First, please don’t be afraid to empathize with the pain of another. Know that there is only one Savior, but when we choose to enter into the experience of another, we show great love and we honor their experience.
Second, WE ARE SO VALUABLE that he chose to endure pain, sorrow and grief FOR US. Dear one, you are known by Him and you are loved. I pray you would breathe this in today.
How about you? Can you think of a time in your life when someone really joined you in a hard place?