It’s so easy for us to think that someone else’s life is so simple. Some people just appear to have it all together. Others look as if life was handed to them on a silver platter. They just can’t understand what it is to really suffer. We get the cheerful Christmas letter from family or friends rambling on and on about how perfect their life is.
No one can understand what we are going through.
Or maybe we are the one who feels that we have no burdens compared to the pain of others around us. Pushing back against our pain, in denial about whatever burdens we carry, frustrated with ourselves because we have “no reason” to be upset or depressed, refusing to mourn the losses in our own lives.
In Ministry, you hear what no one else hears. You see what no one else sees. The stories of the struggles, pain and sadness, abusive pasts and heavy burdens that people carry. And what has surprised me, is that everyone has them.
Yes, there are the more obviously visible burdens. The burden is visible in the mom alone in the pew with her children, everyone in church watched as her marriage was torn apart, you can see the pain in the grim looks on the children’s faces, and the fact that their mother is a shadow of her former self. It’s visible when the father diagnosed with terminal cancer goes up to light the church advent candles with his young children, choking back the tears as they read the bible passages. It’s visible when you see the widow who has sat by herself in her pew, for many, many years.
It’s easy to look at some of those examples and have compassion for so much pain and suffering.
And yet, as a minister’s wife, I know the story doesn’t end there. There are all of the invisible burdens as well. The young woman in the back pew, no one knows about her pregnancy and abortion. The wife and mother sitting with her half dozen young children, no one knows about the abuses in her childhood or her current eating disorder. The older couple who have sat in the same pew for 40 years, no one knows their “happy marriage” has been on the verge of divorce for 2 decades. The happily child-free couple now nearing middle age, no one knows that they have never been able to conceive the child they want so badly. The young man so on fire for God leading the Youth Group, no one knows that he struggles with same-sex attraction.
In fact, looking around the church, I cannot see a single person who does not carry a burden. Resolved or unresolved, public or private, every person has pain. Every person has struggles. There is no one who truly has it all together. Why do we struggle to have compassion for the people who’s pain is “invisible”. Why is it so hard to give grace to the people who have “no reason” (that we can understand) for their dysfunction.