I’ve heard many things over the last year since losing my husband. I’ve heard some of the most encouraging, heart-filling, warm fuzzy words and I’ve heard the head-scratching, puzzling and discouraging words, as well.
But there is one phrase that truly breaks my heart. Unintentionally, I will give you a nasty look. I’ll interrupt your sentence. And it’s likely I’ll ask you to never say that to me again.
“Your situation is so much worse than mine.”
“I shouldn’t be complaining to you.”
“It’s nothing compared to what you’re going through.”
It wasn’t long after Ryan passed when one of my sweet girlfriends was venting about her husband to me and my best friend. I was intently listening to her conversation. She stopped mid sentence, looked at me with apologetic eyes and said, “I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t be complaining.” And she walked away.
Later that evening she sent a text to me, apologizing for possibly offending me as she vented what was on her heart.
I deeply appreciated her compassion towards the sensitivity of my heart. But I realized how bothered I was that she felt as though she couldn’t discuss her marriage with me.
My world stopped at 8:30 on a warm Wednesday morning in September when I received the call that my husband was not coming home. I was the passenger in a car, and although my world froze in that instant, the world around me kept moving. Cars kept driving by, people continued their commute to work, and nobody knew that in the white car next to them, a woman’s entire world just shut down.
The world didn’t stop just because mine did.
The truth is, we all have stuff. You know, that real-life stuff that drags us down and brings us to our knees.
It might be the loss of a job. A health scare. Your child isn’t doing well in school. Divorce. Finances. An elderly parent. A child with special needs. A broken down vehicle. Bad fish you ate the night before.
Whatever it might be, it is as important, as scary, as heartbreaking, and as big as the struggles of another person.
Over the year since my husband’s passing, I often think about Jesus on the cross. I have so many reasons to think about Jesus dying on the cross, but there is something that stands out to me, more than ever before.
“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, the disciple took her into his home.” (John 19:25-27)
Let me be honest – if I was looking down from the cross on which I had just been crucified, I would be 100% focused on my pain.
To be put through the physical and emotional torture that Jesus had endured prior to his crucifixion and then to be left to die after being nailed to a cross…forget it, I’d be like, “you’re on your own.”
But even through his greatest pain, Jesus saw the heartache of others.
In the midst of his pain, in the middle of his suffering, he noticed his mother as she watched her son being tortured and left to die.
Every limb of his body, every nerve with the ability to feel pain, didn’t hurt him as much as his heart ached for her.
I am selfish by nature. There’s a good reason God didn’t choose me to be the Savior of the world. None of you would have a chance to be with God had He left it up to me. I would’ve called down the angels the minute pain was inflicted upon me.
But not Jesus. Oh, my soul, not Jesus.
In the middle of his own pain, he saw her pain.
Her pain looked different than his. Her struggle was unlike his.
But it didn’t matter to him. Her heart was broken and he knew it. So he nurtured it as best he could before taking his last breath.
Now when I read this story of Jesus and his mother, I am left asking myself: “do I notice the suffering around me? Or am I too focused on my own pain?”
The world is desperately hurting. Public tragedies or private trials, we are all hurting.
Unfortunately, none of us are immune from hardship. And the truth is, nobody’s hardship is worse than another’s.
Sure, we may look at a situation and decide that our situation is worse than theirs or vice versa, but let’s be honest…who are we to make that judgement?
Looking at the story of Jesus on the cross, my mind immediately says: ‘he had it waaaay worse than his mom.’ But when I stop to think about Mary, my heart breaks as I imagine her watching her son be tortured and left to die.
Who had it worse? Neither.
Because both of them deeply felt their individual pain.
Our circumstances or the cause of our heartbreak will always be different, but the feeling of that pain is the same. It hurts. And it hurts badly.
We may not be able to truly relate to someone’s situation, but we can all relate to a broken heart.
When someone is sharing their hardship with us, what are we listening to while they speak? Are we comparing our situations? Are we comparing our broken hearts?
Are we so busy comparing that we aren’t listening?
Imagine if Jesus compared his pain and his broken heart to ours every time we spoke to him. Think about the times you call out to him in agony. Think about the times you pray for your broken heart.
What if Jesus looked at our broken hearts and said, “at least you didn’t go through what I went through.”
Instead, he listens. Intently.
He hangs onto every word we speak. He empathizes with our pain. While we speak, he is soaking in every syllable we pronounce and he is searching for ways to comfort our broken hearts.
Do we do the same?
The needs of another may be brought to your attention while you are still on your ‘cross.’ While your pain is still present. Your trial is still happening. Your heartache is not resolved.
After Jesus prayed for the soldiers who were dividing up his clothes, after Jesus granted the promise of paradise to the thief, and after Jesus nurtured his mother’s heart – all while in the midst of his own pain – Jesus uttered three words:
“I am thirsty.” (John 19:28)
And wouldn’t you know it, there were people there to meet that need.
“A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.” (John 19:29)
I am willing to bet that those watching Jesus endure such torture would’ve done anything to ease his pain and lessen his suffering. I would imagine that rather than offering a taste of wine vinegar to Jesus, they were wishing they could climb that cross and quench his thirst.
When you are in the middle of hurting, it’s ok to reach out and let someone know what you need. If you’re on your ‘cross’ doing your best to see the needs around you, don’t forget that there are people watching you, waiting and ready to meet your needs, as well.
Sometimes, we are given just enough to quiet our souls. Just enough ‘wine vinegar’ to lessen our hurt. Just enough to keep going. And sometimes that is all we need.
I know what you’re thinking…”uh, Jesus died right after that.” And you’re right. He did.
“When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:30)
But did his story end there?
The truth is…his story was just beginning.
After Jesus had endured so much heartache and physical pain, he was restored and made new. I imagine that he came back with a smile unlike anything anybody had seen before.
He was refreshed by God and ready to continue his mission.
When we serve others through our pain and when we allow others to nurture our hearts at the same time, we walk out of those hardships refreshed by God. We walk out of those trials renewed by God.
We walk out of that empty feeling, ready to continue our mission.
If the worst part of your day was that your latte had too much foam, I want to know about it.
If the hardest part of your weekend was trying to get kids to various activities while your husband was out of town, I want you to vent to me.
If the most difficult part of your week was deciding what to make for dinner, I want to search for recipes with you (chances are I need them, too).
Our trials may look different. And our hardships may appear to be unequal. But the truth is that our hearts are equally broken, and no matter the cause, the pain is the same.
I will nurture your heart, if you will nurture mine. And together, we will be renewed by God and continue on our mission.