A haunting and beautiful paradox spanning humanity is that we are all, at our core, the same, yet we are all uniquely our own beings.
We may wear our emotions differently, but fear, pain, anger, confusion, joy, happiness, and gratitude are strangers to none. We see, both in times of tragedy and celebration, that when people come together, deep inside us we have more in common than what’s projected on the surface.
Our overarching dreams and needs are the same: to be safe, to provide for ourselves and those we hold dear, to make a difference,to love, and to be loved.
God purposefully threaded the fabric of humankind with likeness just as He gave us all our one-of-a-kind patches that don’t define our worth but do testify to our individuality. Even identical twins aren’t completely identical. While knitting us in the womb, God intended that every fiber identifying us as an original would connect with the soul-pieces everyone claims.
When slapped and stunned by the immeasurable amounts of sadness and agony assaulting far too many lives, I fight the urge to push away the negative narratives that I don’t fully understand. Because that’s easy to do, isn’t it? For me it is. It’s far too easy to avert my eye, draw my arms close to my chest, shake my head and whisper I’ll think about this later or I haven’t experienced that, so I don’t have the right to say anything.
Sometimes I do the reverse. A friend will tell me about a travesty, a deep hurt, or an injustice, and I quickly respond with an opinion that while well-intentioned, wasn’t life-bringing because I simply didn’t take time to examine the nuanced angles of the matter. Neither shying away nor rushing in to assuage an aching soul.
I’ve learned that in order to respond with sincere empathy, I need to embrace what I know and don’t know about the feelings of the wounded. I need to discover the common emotions that can build a bridge to the unshared experience. Not compare my pain to theirs, but to see a reflection of my hurt so my heart stays soft and my compassion flows vibrant.
I don’t know how it feels to be rejected, hated, disparaged, or considered untrustworthy because of the color of my skin. And I certainly can’t grasp the brokenness in people who stick to racist beliefs like gum on a shoe sole. I do know how it feels to be hated for merely existing. I’m familiar with the tender-to-the-touch emotional scar tissue that reminds me of the gaping soul-wounds gouged into the marrow of my being.
I don’t know the struggle of not identifying with my gender. I was born with the chromosomes of a woman and I can’t imagine wanting to be anything but a woman. I do know the blistering pain of feeling like there was something innately wrong with me in need of fixing. I know the loneliness, fear, and anxiety of wondering if God’s only mistake was making me.
I don’t know the frustration and helplessness driven by an addiction. I’ve never been burdened with an all-consuming desire to chase and consume a substance over and over again while knowing that doing so could kill me and destroy my family. I do know how it feels to have the chemicals in my brain spin and sputter out of control. I stared down the confusion of sensing that something outside of myself is dictating my behavior and for the only way to stop it would be to no longer exist.
If we’re not careful, we can look at the plight of another and say, Oh, she’s nothing like me. I could never act like that. Or we can build another type of wall by thinking, I know nothing about her loss, so I’m not even going to try to say anything about this because my words will only get in the way. That’s how we disconnect from one another, how we forget we need each other, how we unknowingly distance ourselves from loving our neighbor in the spirit Jesus asks us to love.
Let’s allow Jesus’ words in Mark 12:30-32 to stir us into action every time we’re tempted to turn away from trying to understand and comfort another.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.There is no commandment greater than these.”
So when a friend is facing something so big that you can’t wrap your mind around it, or when you turn on the news and hear of yet another distressing story or event, first admit what you don’t know, second identify the common emotions, then proceed boldly with love.