Ariel grew up having a perfect life, well, at least in the fairytales. She wore her beautiful bright red hair and a captivating mermaid tail. Her father could give her the entire kingdom only if she asked.
When I hear people tell stories about what their life was like growing up, how easy it is for them to recall their many firsts, and how full of laughter their stories were, it feels to me like they’re narrating a fairytale. I’m not trying to take lightly the hardships they went through because for sure it was also a tough journey. But what I get both amazed at, and hurt about, is to feel their lightness and freedom when they open up.
You see their eyes glimmer in joyful memories despite the hurdles. They glow.
These days I find myself unconsciously asking God, “Why didn’t you give me something like that when You obviously have the power to do so?” Because God knows I want that, too. He knows and He can, but He had other plans.
Don’t get me wrong. God has turned my life around, He saved me. The first thing God did in my heart was to secure me of my identity and grant me the emotional healing made available by the grace of Jesus.
And while I am extremely grateful, sometimes I forget that I still deal with healing every day. Sometimes I catch myself still struggling and not seeking His grace. I isolate myself from the people He sends me. Something, or someone, will come along to offer me an alternative for Jesus.
Opening up is a lot of work — there’s a lot of disclaimers and explanations, a lot of introspection, and a lot of wondering whether the person will be okay to carry such a story. Getting to know a person — and I don’t mean this exclusively in a romantic sense — is like meeting yourself for the first time, too. Because when both parties relate with one another, it is impossible not to rewatch your very own life in a new light as we discover who they are bit by bit.
So this is knowing and being known.
In school, we asked other kids what gift they received for their birthday, or what they ate for New Year’s Eve. And when they share a piece of information about themselves, we usually try to connect and respond, “We do that as a family, too!” or “Oh, that’s the first time I heard of that. I didn’t realize we were doing it differently.”
As you connect with other people, you realize which experiences were ordinary and which were not. Some stories leave an impression, while other stories are quickly forgotten. You make your life the reference to which you can examine theirs, and I believe that’s natural. That’s how we all relate.
But what happens when we cannot connect?
When we thought somebody finally understands us but then turns out they don’t, or when we thought we understand someone but we actually don’t, we run to our anxiety secretly, not wanting to be found. Unaware, we trace the skin where our old scar is and we scratch it until we feel some sting again. At the very least, we know this pain and this pain knows us. That pain somehow connects us to ourselves. The familiar feeling rushes in, and while it is uncomfortable, it feels better than nothing.
Where is your pain pointing you?
Something has been bothering me for a couple of weeks now. My resolve was to utter a thoughtless prayer, shrug it off, and tell myself that I’ll get over it if I don’t dwell on the thought that much. But the ache remains and disappointment knocks. A feeling of lost entitlement arose in my heart and now I lament over something that, to begin with, isn’t even mine.
I felt an urge to cry. I was close to shaking the feeling off, considering I have deadlines to beat tonight and I need to rest early for a busy day tomorrow. But God was insistent to tell me something.
“I hate how honest I am with myself,” I told God through my tears.
“I can pretend to be okay, but I’m too aware to act like nothing is wrong. I have to know, so here I am crying to You like a child again, Abba. What do you want to tell me?”
Tonight God told me many things.
Spontaneous worship “Reckless Love” played in the background as I sat still. First, I was reminded of the truth that God completely knows me, and that no one can ever know me the way He does.
It was comforting. Then I laid out to God the general hurt and disappointment I feel towards people as I learn about them. A few faces crossed my mind, and I felt humbled by God.
“Knowing someone’s good side makes loving them easy. But how about knowing the parts that are not loveable nor easily acceptable? Loving someone comes with discovering their imperfections. You yourself know your faults, my child, but have I ever felt disappointed in you? Never. Whatever pain you hide from Me, I know them. The sin, the shame, the guilt don’t disappoint me. All this time My love stayed the same. My love endures forever (Psalms 136).
Now, can you give others the same love that you receive from Me? A love that doesn’t get disappointed or tired? Can you know people and see their flaws, and love them just as I would love you? No. You can’t do it on your own, my child. But with Me it is possible.
Bring Me into your relationship with these people. Let Me hold you and the people you love, so when the day comes that your heart wants to continue loving them yet your flesh is tired, you will see that My grace won’t run out. My love is longsuffering.“
I cried hard because I realized I only know love from the perspective of the receiver, not the giver. I know how it feels to be known and be loved (passive), but I have yet to understand what it means to know and to love (active).
Pain and compassion come together
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Matthew 14:13-14
My devotion this morning was about Jesus receiving the news of John’s death. He went to a place alone, perhaps to grieve the loss of His cousin. Yet the crowds followed Jesus. And when Jesus saw the people, He had compassion towards them.
I also read the other day the part where the devil tempted Jesus three times, right at the time when He was fasting. After this, the narrative turned to Jesus beginning his ministry and calling out His first disciples.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came… Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee… From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. Matthew 4:1-3, 12, 17, 18-20
These two instances are only some of the many other occasions when Jesus extended missional acts of compassion right after a struggle. This was Jesus on earth. After giving it some thought, I asked Him in my mind, “Why, Jesus? Why did you feel compassion for others when you yourself were suffering in grief? Why begin ministry when you’re still tired after Satan tested you? Why, Jesus?”
If that were me, I probably would go into hiding and get annoyed that people won’t leave me alone to mourn. And I probably would go on a vacation to recharge before I pursue my calling.
After God’s revelations to me tonight, I think I now understand better why Jesus did what He did. Jesus wanted to show God’s power working not only when the pain is over, but also through the pain.
We live in a broken world. Remember that it is our sin, and not God’s will, that brought us suffering. But the good news is, we are not left without hope.
Compassion, in its original Latin term, actually means “to suffer with”. And as I recount how Jesus went through pain Himself and afterward saw the crowds like a lost sheep, He felt their pain, too. Jesus identified Himself with these people. He met the crowd and suffered with them, to lead them through the pain and unto salvation.
I can say in confidence that even today, as we face different forms of suffering, Jesus is with us. He is fighting in faith with you while you compute your salary thinking it will not be enough to pay the bills. He is crying with you while you lock yourself in the bathroom and silently break into pieces. He is enduring with you while you wait in the parking lot for a hospital bed to free up.
Jesus knows pain Himself and won’t abandon you in your suffering. He is with you through it all. This is what I hold onto as well. I admit on some days it’s hard to believe it, but He is with us even in our doubt.
It is scary, I know, but God wants us to thrive in love and not drown in fear. We could be hurt because of love, but ironically, only love can heal us, too.
We might get hurt in community, but God also restores us through community.
We might get tired in ministry, but God also refreshes us through ministry.
We might feel betrayed by the church, but God also points us to grace through the church.
We could feel exposed and fragile in our relationships, but God also strengthens us in parts where we are weak when we connect with others.
We could be haunted by our past, but God uses our darkest times to remind us of His greatest demonstration of love — the salvation through the sacrifice of His son.
So today I tell myself to rejoice in my suffering.
Even when I don’t feel like it, to rejoice with Jesus.
And even when it’s hard, to rejoice with one another.
If you’re also having a difficult time in your season now, I hope you go through it with the awareness that Jesus is suffering with you, too. And although it will take time, He will pull you through it.