July 22, 2018
The gift of understanding
When we are hurting because of a mistake we have made, we seldom want answers from our family or our friends. Solutions to the common problems of life are a dime a dozen. We don’t want anyone to explain what we should not have done – or what we ought to do.
Cruel questions can be devastating. “Why on earth did you do such a stupid thing?” “Have you lost your mind?” Cutting questions push us deeper into the hole of shame we have already dug for ourselves.
What we want – and need – is understanding. That understanding is a precious gift was brought home to me recently by a good friend. When I shared with him my disgust with myself, he was neither critical nor judgmental. He simply said, “I understand how you feel.” Those few words lifted my spirit.
Understanding does not cure our self-despising but it does give us hope that we can recover. It helps us begin the slow and painful process of climbing out of the deep hole of embarrassment.
When it comes to the mistakes of others, we have options. We can respond with indifference, criticism or understanding. Truth is, we are all capable of being insensitive. We can hurt the feelings of others without intending to do it. And we can make matters worse by quickly condemning others when they have been foolish, careless or thoughtless.
That explains our basic choice: condemnation or understanding. We had best leave condemnation to the court and choose to offer others understanding. Condemnation does little to change behavior; understanding does. People need it; we all need it. And when understanding is flavored with a bit of encouragement, it can work like a tonic to help heal our shame.
Failure, illness, loss of a job, divorce or the loss of a loved one can trigger despair in the best of us. None of us is immune from the perplexities of life. When despair settles in, the last thing we need is the stern advice to "stop feeling sorry for yourself." Such counsel only deepens the gloom into which we are settling.
Since it is hard for a free fish to understand a hooked fish, we should all be slow to respond, with words, to a hurting person who reaches out to us. Listening is often more helpful than speaking. Assumptions, based on little information, may not be wise. If we are not presently caught in the web of heartaches, we may be tempted to offer quick cures to hurting friends. What sometimes works wonders is to keep all of your marvelous solutions to yourself and simply say, "I understand.” And perhaps, “If you want to talk, I am here to listen.”
Recovery and healing take time. Few of us recover quickly from harsh experiences that "cut us to the quick." We need time, understanding, and the gentle caring of significant others. Words are not enough. Medicine is not enough. People need people. Even Robinson Crusoe needed someone.
Most of the time, a new beginning is quite impossible without the aid of one or more understanding friends. So we may all share in the healing of wounded persons. We can do this not occasionally but every day by offering gentleness, kindness and understanding to the people around us. We can stop harping about what’s wrong and focus on what’s right with the folks around us. And we dare not forget that sooner or later we will need the help that others can give us.
You may think of yourself as tough, self-reliant and strong. You may think that you don't need anybody. You can make it on your own. Maybe, but I doubt it. Chances are you are made like the rest of us. And you will be ahead of the game if you give up the macho attitude and admit you cannot make it on your own. Why? Because God has not made anybody who does not need the gift of understanding. It is surely one of the most precious gifts we can offer to one another! + + +