A while back, as I neared the end of a long season in the wilderness, I sometimes felt more alone than at any other time in my adult life.
There I was, barely into my 40s and experiencing difficult aspects of early menopause after years of hormonal upheaval. Thankfully, I did have some friends who could empathize a bit. They had been through the same transition, though maybe not in such a tumultuous way or at such an early age.
Many of my friends—women my age or younger, most with school-age children at home—weren’t there yet and simply couldn’t relate.
Intellectually, I knew I wasn’t the only one who had ever faced this, and that my struggles were minor compared to the more serious hardships of others. But I was such a reluctant pioneer.
And although few people knew what was going on inside of me, I also felt like a complete oddball, as if I had an extra arm or a foot growing out of my forehead.
I hated this thought. It wasn’t as bad as the actual physical symptoms I dealt with, but it still left me feeling sad and empty.
During this time in my life, I had friends who were trudging through their own dark valleys. Some of their trials actually made headlines, while others were intensely private. I wanted to understand what they were feeling, because I believed empathy was the best path to encouragement. But I hadn’t walked in their shoes, so I couldn’t truly share in their suffering.
That’s what I assumed, anyway.
Then one day, probably when I was feeling lonely and not understood, I tripped over that foot sticking out of my forehead and stumbled straight onto common ground.
I realized that, while our specific trials are unique to each one of us, certain feelings are universal. I might not have a child with debilitating special needs. I might not have a husband who doesn’t share my faith. I might not have a grieving heart, a terminal illness or a painful past.
But I do know what it’s like to feel like I’m the only one. I do know what it’s like to get that “I-have-no-idea-what-you’re-talking-about” blank stare when I try to explain my struggle. I do know what it’s like to think that there’s not one soul on God’s green earth—or at least in my immediate circle of people—who can relate exactly to what I’m experiencing.
I know what it feels like to have a foot growing out of my forehead, and when I haven’t walked where someone else is walking, that’s a good place to start.
It breaks my heart to think that someone I care about might have the added weight of internal isolation plopped atop her messy pile of pain, grief or loss. To think that when my hurting friend walks into a room, she assumes that everyone is avoiding looking at her, gazing at her with pity-filled eyes or completely oblivious to her presence.
None of these things may be true, but that feeling? It’s real, and it’s miserable.
My friend may not feel like she has a foot growing out of her forehead. Isolation may make her feel like she’s drowning, or standing outside naked, or trapped on a deserted island.
Whatever the word picture, though, the root cause is the same—she’s feels like she’s the only one. And that thought alone is enough to spur me into action.
It’s not rocket science, really. When you realize you have this in common with someone, it becomes more natural to care for her the way you would like to be cared for yourself.
So you seek her out. You hug her. You ask her about the hard things, and not just once. You listen—carefully and without interrupting. You look for ways you can learn from her, ways that have nothing to do with her pain.
She may feel all alone, but she’s not.
You’re there, too.
P.S. Linking up this week with Kelly Balarie at Purposeful Faith, Jennifer Dukes Lee at #TellHisStory, Holley Gerth at Coffee for Your Heart, Lyli Dunbar at #ThoughtProvokingThursday, Missional Women and Grace & Truth.