I take delight in hearing an individual share his or her story. When a person opens a window into his or her internal life, I feel privileged. I’m the type of person to turn my head while driving down the street when the curtains are pulled back in a window. I am also the type of person to incline my heart and my ear to a soul unveiled, a vulnerable, soft heart.
This week I had the privilege of hearing a woman’s story of caring for her father with Dementia while navigating systems and family issues. She told it during a staff training about emotional triggers. Before she opened up, I took note of how guarded she was. She is beautiful and guarded, hurting and reaching. Yet, I knew not the gravity of her circumstances before she opened up. I only saw a Black women whose facial expressions supported the fact that she is not the one. Note to reader: when a Black woman says she isn’t the one, trust her. When the word “ain’t” replaces “isn’t,” don’t try her.
I was deeply inspired.
And the Lord set us up to be a blessing to one another in words and hugs.
But the following questions came to me: how should we respond to hurting people when we don’t hear the story? How do we permit life in suffocating situations?
Letting your light shine among spiritually-conscious churchgoers is rather easy. But we are called to be lights in the ruins, in desolate places.
Here are a few notes I gathered before hearing this woman’s – my sister’s – synopsis of her pain.
- Don’t say, “I know what going through” when you don’t. Just be quiet.
- Don’t touch people you do not know without their permission. You don’t know what their emotional triggers are. You may like hugs, like me. But they may not be in the space to receive them. Respect that.
- Let people feel what they are feeling so that they can come out on the other side. God’s will is not that anyone should perish (2 Peter 3:9). You trying to shield them from their processes does not make you God and is not of God. It makes you ignorant and presumptuous, also known as wrong. Trust me, I’ve been ignorant and presumptuous many times with good intentions.
- People who are angry may perceive your smile and kindness as unauthentic. Let them think what they will think and say what they say. Keep smiling. Keep being kind. When you know you and how far you’ve come, you don’t have time for pettiness.
- Let people join the conversation at their own pace. Celebrate their physical presence and pray for the Spirit to come upon them and open them up.
- Don’t rush into praying with someone after you hear a piece of what they’re going through. Prayer to God alone for them is so powerful. He will honor you in His guidance of you as you interact with them. You don’t want to overwhelm people.
Loving the loveable is easy. Jesus said even capitalists do that in Matthew 5:46. But to love people enough to wait for them to open up is godly love (John 9:35 – 38). While we were still sinners – without strength – Jesus died for us (Romans 5:8). Remember how weak you were when you embraced the Love that wouldn’t let you go. As you remember your weakness, extend yourself wisely to the ones whose stories you have not heard and permit life in suffocating circumstances.