Secrets of the Heart (Ros' Blog)
Have you ever had one of those moments when you feel there is no one who really understands all you are going through? Even people who’ve been through similar experiences don’t always understand one another.
I remember when my daughter was born, thirteen weeks prematurely and fighting for her life. Many people sent us notes, messages of sympathy, letters or cards to let us know they were thinking of us. But not one single person sent us a card that said “congratulations”. I was deeply hurt. Yes our baby had problems, and no, we didn’t know how long she would be with us. But for now we had a beautiful new baby girl in our family. Didn’t anyone want to congratulate us?
So some years later, when a friend had a baby with distressing disabilities, I sent a new baby card. I was careful to choose one with sensitive wording, but I made sure it included the word congratulations. I later learned from a mutual friend that the baby’s parents had been very offended by cards that said congratulations, because they didn’t think it was appropriate to congratulate them on such a devastating event. Two people facing a very similar circumstance, but with very different reactions to it.
Similarly, I remember the first time a stranger passed comment on my daughter’s disabilities. She had only just been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and at fifteen months old she weighed only about thirteen pounds so she looked like a much younger baby. I took her to the park one day, sat her in the baby swing, and because she couldn’t sit unsupported, I used the reins to secure her tightly in the swing with a small cushion tucked behind her, to ensure that she wouldn’t flop around as she swung. I began pushing her, and her three year old sister in the swing next to her, alternating between pushing first one then the other. Safely fastened into the swing, Ellen threw back her head and chuckled with sheer delight as she swung back and forth, the air ruffling her hair while she waved her less paralysed arm in glee. Her sister chuckled back at her from the neighbouring swing. It was one of those precious moments of which family memories are made. And at that moment, a total stranger marched up to me and demanded, “What’s wrong with your little girl?” Strapped securely into the swing in a sitting position, I was unaware that it was so obvious she had a disability, and the question was like a punch to the stomach. To my eyes, though she had problems, there was nothing “wrong” with her.
Some time after, when I shared this story with another parent of a disabled child, she was bemused by my reaction. “I like it when people ask me what’s the matter with him,” she responded. “That way I get to explain it myself, and I’d much rather they hear my version.” I could see her point, but it didn’t take away the deep feeling of hurt and shock from hearing that question for the first time – the first of very, very many times over the coming years.
So no matter how much we may have in common, we can’t see into one another’s hearts, and we can’t necessarily understand how or why someone else is feeling. As the Bible tells us, “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.” (Proverbs 14.10)
At such times it’s a real comfort to know that God understands us through and through. He feels all that we feel in our hearts: “In all their distresses He too was distressed.” (Isaiah 63.9) Jesus experienced all that we experience: “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for He faced all of the same testings we do.” (Hebrews 4.19) He also knows what it is to look for comforters and sympathy yet draw a complete blank (Psalm 69.20).
It once struck me, when Ellen was going through a traumatic operation which saved her life but left a lifelong scar on her psyche, that no parent would volunteer to watch their child go through something so dreadful. And yet God loved us so much that He was prepared to endure even the sight of His Son tortured to death in order to restore us to His family and secure our eternal safety and joy. As a result He has a unique insight into our sufferings and joys, into the things that our heart knows which nobody else sees. There is nothing about which we can’t turn to Him for comfort because He knows exactly what we are going through. I may have quoted them in this blog before, I can’t remember, but I love these words from the 17th century pastor Samuel Rutherford:
“I shall believe for my part that He mindeth to distil heaven out of this loss, and all others the like; for wisdom devised it, and love laid it on, and Christ owneth it as His own, and putteth your shoulder beneath only a piece of it.”