I Feel Your Pain. Or Not.

Some friends lost their son on Sunday night. It was a car accident. He was 23.

I had lost track of these friends. We served in a ministry together back in our single days. They met and married about the same time Vicki and I met and married. They had a son, and watched him grow up. And now he is gone.

Vicki and I also had a child, but we never got to meet. It was a tubal pregnancy, ending in emergency surgery that kept Vicki from bleeding to death. I like to think that the child we lost was a boy, but that is just one of several million mysteries known only to God. Had he lived, he would have been about 23 now. And that is what keeps running through my head. The lost son could have been ours.

I am tempted to contact them with empathetic condolences; to tell them I understand, because I’ve been there, too. But I haven’t been where they are… not exactly. They experienced birthdays and graduations, first steps and last goodbyes. Their story unfolded over years, not hours. I can’t help but compare our situations and wonder: whose pain is greater? Is sadness multiplied by the joy that precedes it, or is the greater loss the longing for what never was?

Another friend lost his mom on Monday. Does the loss of an elderly saint compare to a miscarriage? Just yesterday, we stood with friends and watched their house burn to the ground as flames fed on years of memories. Is pain really minimized by the realization that it’s only stuff?

Comparison may or may not be sin, but scripture says it is unwise (2 Corinthians 10:12). If we allow ourselves to dwell on whose pain is greater, or how our pain is different from the pain of others, we will never experience spiritual healing. If we let ourselves believe that we are the only ones who know exactly how we feel, we will miss the companionship of Christ (who suffered as we do) and of others who have also experienced deep loss.

Our emotional pains are more common than distinct. Small groups of friends who know and love each other can support each other through all kinds of painful experiences. God’s knowledge of us and of our future needs influences his choice of companions for the next leg of our journeys. If we will let him, he can stack our small groups with just the right people who have been there and done that… before us. If we choose community over isolation, we can benefit from their experience, learning how they leaned into or away from God’s grace in the midst of pain… even if it is not exactly like our own.

Boasting “we know how you feel” is seldom helpful. But listening, praying for comfort, and leaning together into the Comforter is the best way we can support each other along a difficult and sometimes painful journey.