My friend sat across from me as we wrapped up a couple minutes we’d spent catching up. “How can I pray for you?”
I sighed. “It’s June. This month is five years since Aiden left. It’s always a hard month.” I don’t tell everyone that, just the few I trust with glimpses of my pain. As a rule, as a coping mechanism, I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve.
Those short sentences were the momentary pulling back of the curtain, the light in the quiet room I keep to myself, inside myself, where my love and heartache for Aiden live. I didn’t punctuate them with tears or tack on any other thoughts. I may have even seemed nonchalant about it; a well that deep can’t be swallowed in the minute we had so I offered only a few drops.
It’s always risky to bare your heart, even in a mild form and in a fleeting manner. It’s possible it will be ignored, or mocked, or misunderstood. Sometimes people are uncomfortable in the presence of grief and turn away, or mumble their way through clumsy attempts to offer sympathy while moving quickly to easier subjects. And then sometimes, just sometimes, someone gets it right and meets my eyes and takes a moment to feel my pain, and for that one moment the weight is a little lighter. This is what makes the risk worth it.
This wasn’t the day for sympathy and lightened loads. The reply came back hollow and flippant.
I was glad I hadn’t exposed more of my heart. I’d taken a small gamble, with someone I trusted, and it hadn’t paid off. I backed out of the conversation and went home.
It felt like betrayal. Some people should know better. Some people should know what they’ve been handed and treat it with respect, even awe that you’ve entrusted them with something as valuable as a little piece of your very self.
In the next days her comment would come back to my mind and I would feel it again and the anger would wash over me and I’d be back in that room and I’d think of all the things I should’ve said, the ways I should have defended myself and put my friend in her place and fought back for the love of Aiden. Because the love of Aiden is what it comes down to: my heart has been rent open over the loss of my boy and he was too special and too real to just let it go. My heart screams “I can’t let it go! I won’t! A million sunsets and trillion miles won’t be enough time or distance for me to let him go. He’s real and he’s my son and I’ll never move on from him!”
As the sun rose the morning of Aiden’s departure from this earth, this thought rose in my mind and became steel in my soul: I won’t let this ruin me. And here it was, the pain of Aiden leaving and the aftermath trying desperately to ruin me, and to ruin a friendship.
I won’t let this ruin me.
I fought the bitterness off for three days and, in the end, I won.
Growing up, my mom used to lament that I was stubborn. In the difficult days of our marriage, my husband has cursed my stubbornness. At times like this, I bless it. God gave me an iron will when I want to have one, and against bitterness I want that blessed stubborn determination.
Bitterness must never win.
This is where grace came in, where love for another person outweighed the love of self.
Once I’d worked through my initial feelings, I realized the day my friend was dismissive, she was emotionally and physically drained from private struggles she was trying to make sense of, compounded by outside stresses and deadlines. I had seen the signs of insomnia on her face and heard the weariness in her voice. The pressures life was throwing her way were very real and very weighty.
Under normal conditions a friend could be forgiven for momentary insensitivity; under the degree of strain she was experiencing, I needed boatloads of compassion and the love to cover a multitude of sins… or, in this case, a single instance of oversight.
Bear each other’s burdens…
As badly as I wanted grace from her, I wanted grace for her.
And that’s it right there, isn’t it? We all need grace. We’re all on this road together, carrying our various and varied crosses, hoping against hope that someone next to us will have grace enough to meet our eyes and lighten our loads for a moment so we can continue on and not feel so alone. Along with the embracing arms of God, aren’t the greatest gifts we have the people next to us who bring comfort? Because the One next to us put the ones next to us for that reason.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (NIV)
Lord, may I never be so self-focused on my own grief and need for grace that I fail to see others’ grief and need for grace.
*Disclaimer: my friend and I have talked about this, she has read this post beforehand, and I have permission to post this.