On Friday, after a long day and a long week, I called my tiny friend to talk to her and I asked her about her life and her day and her week.
She told me that it was crazy (“MINE. TOO.” I said), and that she had an experience with another human, an encounter, where he suddenly opened, like the first tulips of spring, and, late one night, he shared the deep, hard things that each of us keeps hidden and held-close in the shadow-parts of our insides.
She too has known hurt and suffering over and over again these past few years.
And yet, she said of him, “Had I not known my pain, I would not have known so well how to join him in his.”
This, after all, is the mark of compassion.
On Saturday, after a long week and a short morning, I drove to a social justice protest, where my side was very sparsely attended and “their” side was full of humans yelling profanities and insults. It happens.
I stood next to a fresh-faced seminarian, young and sweet, with the kind-eyes that are kind of brimming with mercy and innocence both.
We started talking a bit, surrounded by people cussing our cause and his gender. Somehow he started talking about something that touched him this week. He told me that it moved him to tears.
I remember saying, “Ah, tears are a gift of the Holy Spirit, a consolation. Thank God for that gift.”
And he said, “I think I am touched often.”
I told him, “Well, it’s still a gift, and one day you might find you don’t have that grace anymore, so treasure it now.”
He looked at the crowds of people and said, “I hope I never lose it.”
But I thought to myself about the seasons of desolation I have known, that my Friday-friend has known, too. I thought about the stays “mourning and weeping in the Valley of Tears”…but, also…how I knew God to deliver me from there. And how deeply I treasure that deliverance.
“Don’t wish that,” I said to the seminarian,”God works wonders, even through desolation. We grow a lot there. And He will always give you the grace.”
And then more people yelled and we stopped our conversation.
On Sunday, after a full weekend, I opened my Bible.
I’m reading through the Old Testament again, and currently in the book of 1 Chronicles. It’s not too popular of a book, and for good reason. For, unless you find the reading of genealogy thrilling…it isn’t exactly uplifting and entertaining. I snort-laugh every night when I open it, kind of resigned to the fact that it will be uninteresting.
Last night, though, I came across the part about Jabez.
When was his prayer popularized in Protestant culture? 10 years ago? 15? I read the book then, and reread the prayer now, the words of Jabez to God.
Oh, that you may truly bless me and extend my boundaries! May your hand be with me and make me free of misfortune, without pain!
I prayed it back in high school, when the book was popularized. Why not? No harm.
Except that…since high school (and during, I guess)…I have known pain. I’ve known pain and misfortune. I’ve known hurt. I’ve known disappointment. Some days I feel like my heart is held together with willpower alone or hidden deep in a bunker.
Even so, I pitied Jabez, reading this last night. To not know misfortune is to never know that God can save you. To not know pain means you can never fully enter the pain of another.
Life taught me this, I suppose. But so did the people of God who held me through my darkness and my pain.
Maybe, actually, my pain and my misfortune were the greatest gifts God ever gave me–gifts of discovery and wonder.
Thinking back on these days, I thought: ah, how He has blessed me. Indeed.