PLEASE TRY TO UNDERSTAND
While growing up in a Jamaican household, I was consistently exposed to sayings or quotations that contained the homespun wisdom of those that hailed from that sun-drenched island, even if some of the parables sounded rather strange. “He who feels it knows it,” is one such quotation. The underlying moral of this statement is that only those who have been through a particular experience can authoritatively speak to its reality, intensity, and impact.
I recall the statement being a favorite of my grandmother, who invariably would utter the phrase if I or my siblings expressed any kind of surprise at her being tired. If she detected that we were not being sufficiently sympathetic to her plight, she would say, “You wouldn’t understand. He who feels it know it.” Her point was, that we were in no position to judge how tired she should or should not be. Only she could do so.
The phrase came back to me recently, as I thought about a trend that is presently very prevalent in our society. That trend is, how quickly some people are to dismiss the validity of other people’s viewpoint, complaint, or even the residual impact of something they have been through. The usual scenario is that one person articulates how they feel about an issue, or tries to inform the listener of something that they feel needs to be addressed, but the listener, who has a completely different vantage point to the person making the statement, minimizes the importance of what they have heard, or dismisses it’s validity altogether. The listener doesn’t get the point because they have no reference point. But the listener is guilty of assuming there is no issue to address because they have made no attempt to understand where the other person is coming from.
To varying degrees, we see it just about everywhere we look. Specifically, we currently see it in the areas of politics and social interaction. If we focus on social interaction, we often find that someone will complain about being a victim of discrimination. However, the person who has never suffered that kind of discrimination, and is unlikely to ever do so, waives away victim’s complaint. The person who is fortunate enough not have suffered discrimination, concludes that there is nothing to address. The “blessed” person could be positioned to help address and re-mediate the injustice. But they won’t because they don’t see an issue. While I was thinking about the issue, it occurred to me that we have to be careful not to let this inconsiderate attitude exist in the church. My concern is that we could miss the opportunity to minister to somebody through a lack of empathy or sympathy.
One of the most powerful aspects of God appearing in the flesh as Jesus Christ, was His being able to empathize with our suffering because He walked in our shoes. Hebrews 4:15 states:
“For we do not have a High Priest Who is unable to understand and sympathize and have a shared feeling with our weaknesses and infirmities and liability to the assaults of temptation, but One Who has been tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sinning.” (Amplified Classic Translation)
God knows how we feel, not just because He is omniscient. He knows what we feel because He has been where we are. If we are to be like Christ and minister in His stead, then does that not mean that we must have compassion for those we are charged to help? I think the answer is yes. I know that there are times when I am aggrieved when somebody intimates that I have not suffered a hurt or my pain is not real. Listen to my story before you make your determination.
The author of Hebrews goes on to tell us that, because God came in the flesh and shared our experience, we can go to Him without fear of repudiation. We want people to feel comfortable coming to us when they need help knowing that we will hear them and help them get to where God wants them to be. So, as you interact with people, try to understand where they come from. They may need to change their behavior or move to a new mental state. But let’s understand where they have been so that we can help them reach their destiny.