Some people are harder to love than others.
It’s an every day truth, and it was the gist of a conversation I had over coffee in mid-November with my friend and former neighbor, Sarah. But Sarah is a thoughtful, big-hearted woman who smiles all the time, so a discussion that could have turned toxic did not. Instead, as she bounced her baby on her knee, she said,
“But if we really knew every person’s story, if we really knew everything that had happened to them, there would be no hate in the world. It would be so easy to love them, because we all carry so many hidden hurts.”
I’ve been thinking about what she said ever since. The truth of it. Because we, as humans, are made to live in community with one another, and one way we can know that for sure is by recognizing and embracing our own ability – and need – to sympathize. Life is so much richer when we accept that we have all suffered. That we are not all that unique.
This Christmas season, I have made a conscious choice to listen more. To listen for the story under the words. And maybe it’s just maturity that has enhanced my hearing, but I think this conscious decision to listen has also opened my heart, and all I hear lately are stories yearning to be told and held in the welcoming arms of Love.
- A woman in the ‘sandwich’ generation, trying to care for rapidly aging and disabled parents while also raising young children
- A couple helping their parents out of tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt that was incurred in an attempt to save a family business
- Multiple families’s struggles to help one of their own deal with drug or alcohol addiction
- Two parents searching for a diagnosis for their son’s health issues
The pain of those telling me about their problems is often masked by sarcasm or smiles. And deep, deep wounds are buried far under pride and self-sufficiency. How we handle stresses like these are often dependent on whether we’ve healed from our own past hurts, because the frustration of loving others in challenging situations is exacerbated when we ourselves feel shortchanged in love.
But – people need to talk. Often, they are not searching for solutions. They are not looking for any particular kind of assistance. They just want someone with an open heart to be fully present to them.
We all think we are busy, that we have places to be and stuff to do, but do we really? What are we racing around for? What is our purpose, if not to live a full life by loving when given the opportunity?
Once, when I didn’t know how to approach a grieving family, didn’t know how to begin to find words of sympathy, I called my mom. She said,
“Just being present to someone is a ministry.”
A ministry. A lofty word made simple in this instance, because I could do that. I could show up.
I’m not sure I’ll make a New Year’s resolution. Like most people I’m not very good at keeping them. But I like the idea of finding one word to be my focus in 2016. And the word ‘listen‘ is beautifully open-ended. Who knows what I might hear, and as a result, how I might grow in Love.
Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. – Ephesians 4:29