This year I've really put effort into knowing the people in my church better. We've been going to this church for at least 8 years, but last year I realized I don't know people there very well. The distance to the church (and most of the attendees' homes) is a major hurdle for me, especially since travel is one of my triggers.
Despite the difficulties in deepening relationships, I've been persistent, and as I get to know the church women better, I've realized something important: Everyone is in pain.
I had heard one particular single woman share some of her own health struggles during the Prayer & Share time, so I approached her one day after the service and asked her how she was doing.
"Fine," she replied.
"No," I said. "Tell me how you're really doing."
I prodded and poked and pursued until the story came unraveling bit by bit. I sensed in her the same reluctance to share the whole truth that I feel when I share.
She'll think I'm negative. She doesn't really want to know. She just wants to be polite.
But there came a point when I knew I couldn't do anything but pray and be her friend. And it brought tears to my eyes. I knew how isolating pain can be, how difficult it is to convey chronic pain to people who don't live with it.
For a minute, we just looked at each other, both tearful, both bonded invisibly by pain and by the compassion of Christ. We hugged for a long time.
Now we chat at church and can be open with each other. When we say "How are you doing?" it's not just an idle greeting. We mean it, and we listen as long as it takes for the other person to tell the story of her latest woes--not because we're negative people (we're not) but because others so seldom really listen that the few listeners get long stories.
But physical pain is just one part of the equation. One Sunday recently, the woman next to me wept during the service. I know her story, and the loved one she brings desperately to the Lord in prayer. She's in pain too.
The man sitting a few rows behind me? He lost his wife a few years ago and still feels her loss keenly. The woman across the aisle? She walks with a cane because of a bad back and hip. The woman in the back? She struggles with body image issues and feelings of intense insecurity.
Everyone has some kind of pain. Maybe it's physical, maybe it's relational, maybe it's emotional. No one has a monopoly on pain, or a full understanding of it, so it is good for us to listen and care, and to have the humility to share.
More than that, I am reminded that the church, as a whole, is in pain. We have the same struggles, fears, and hurts that other people face. We just know what to do them when they arise, and we have a hope that no circumstances can change. We have each other and, best of all, we have our Lord, who chose pain for our sakes, and knows it just as intimately as we do. He shared in our pain, and, through Him, we can share the pain of others and lift them up.
None of my life has gone the way it was "supposed to go," but I don't love my life any less because of the hardships and new directions. I see so much unexpected good in it, and I want others to see the good in theirs.