“Because you have never had to deal with this kind of thing before, you just cannot know what I am going through.” It is quite likely that the great majority of us have made such a statement ourselves or have had someone say something similar to us.
No two lives are exactly the same. We may share some common experiences, and we may share a common bond in the Lord, but each of our lives is unique. Because that is the case, there are some instances when I can sympathize with what you are having to face in your life, but I cannot empathize with you because, as you said, I have never experienced what you are going through.
Like every other male on the planet, I have never had to endure the physical pain of giving birth to a child. I know that such pain is real, though. I read in the Bible about the “labor pains” of a pregnant woman (1 Thessalonians 5:3), and I have seen that pain up close.
If your house burned down and in the process you lost a number of keepsakes that were of great value to you personally, I am sorry for your loss. No, I have not experienced such a loss, but you do not mind if some of us pray for you (3 John 2) and try to help you find a way to replace some of your material possessions that were destroyed, do you?
If you have suffered the loss of a child, I cannot look you in the eye and assure you that I, too, have experienced such a tragic loss. I have not. But I can see your pain and can ask the God of heaven to use His people to comfort you, even as He used Titus to comfort Paul on one occasion (2 Corinthians 7:6). I may choose to speak few words for fear that I will say something that will do more harm than good. But know this: the rest of us care about you.
If you are facing the disappointment of not passing an exam that would qualify you to serve legally in your chosen profession, we are sorry that things did not turn out like you had hoped they would. We, too, have been disappointed in our past, though the cause of our being downhearted may be something totally different than yours. Still, we can sympathize with your being “down.”
Brother or sister, if you face intense tests being married to a non-Christian, some of us go through the same thing; others of us either are not married or have a spouse who is united with us in the Christ. I hope that the difference in our marriage arrangements will not put a wall between us that causes you to shut out the rest of us. We recall that some early saints were married to people who were not disciples of Jesus (1 Corinthians 7:12-16). It is a tough situation, and our hearts go out to our brothers and sisters who are in such a challenging relationship. Though we do not know firsthand what you are facing, we do care about your interests and needs (Philippians 2:4).
Perhaps you were injured in an accident and this greatly affects your present and future life. We all know that it makes your life more difficult. It could be a mental burden for you as much as a physical one. Even though most of us who are your brethren personally have not faced the unfortunate situation which is part of your life, “we have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it . . .” (1 Corinthians 12:25,26).
If you are struggling with the pain, bitterness, and loneliness that come from going through a divorce, I understand that your feelings are genuine. I also understand that I cannot put my arm around you or send you a note and say, “I have been there and done that, and from my experience I can guarantee you that you will feel better with the passing of time.” But to say that we have not gone through the horrors of a divorce and those things that led to it does not mean that we are uninterested and untouched. We see your pain. We want to encourage you and help you. Maybe we just do not know the best way to do it. Please know, though, that we care. We bring your name before our Father in prayer. He sees and He cares, too, so you can cast your cares on Him (1 Peter 5:7).
Whatever it is that you are facing that feels like a “fiery trial” (1 Peter 4:12), we are aware that you are hurting. We see it and we sense it. Maybe we do not understand totally what you are feeling in your body or in your heart, but we care. We really do. If we step forward and show concern, please do not push us away. Please do not scold us and tell us to mind our own business. Okay, maybe we do not know any special words that can help soothe your aching heart. Perhaps you just need some time to be alone. But, please, understand that we care. If we try to use God’s word to comfort you (1 Thessalonians 4:18) or encourage you (Acts 20:32), please do not despise or kill the messengers (that would be us). We have good intentions; we are just trying to help.
It may seem as if you have been thrown into a burning furnace like those three young Hebrews were (Daniel 3). The fire in that furnace was real, but God delivered them. He can bring you through your fires, too. You may feel as if you have been tossed into a den of lions like Daniel was (Daniel 6). The lions that were inside that den with Daniel were real man-eating animals. God brought him through that trial, and He can do the same for you.
“I understand, but I do not understand completely.” As we recognize that people are hurting, yet we admit that we have never experienced what they are facing, let us continue to be sensitive, sympathetic, and supportive of one another.
— Roger D. Campbell