I have recently been focusing on the thought that we can never know or feel what other people are experiencing. No matter how close we are to someone, we do not have the ability to step into their bodies and minds. I was particularly struck by this thought while watching a show called “World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji.” Teams go through 10 days of grueling physical exertions with the hope that they simply finish.
The show is incredible and yet I know it cannot truly capture what each of those brave and strong participants experience. They are lucky to sleep an hour or two a day. They experience extreme temperatures and frigid water and undergo various physical ailments, some of which could be deadly if not treated. Yet, as I watch what they are going through and see their red eyes and bodies shaking from the cold, and wounds, I cannot feel what they are feeling. All I can do is imagine it based on the information I have received and my past experiences that can help me empathize, if only a little.
Thankfully, even that little bit of empathy can go a long way. It opens me up to love. No matter the participant or their situation, I experienced compassion towards each of them in that race. No matter their background, I rooted for them. I wanted them to succeed. I cried when they struggled and prayed that they could find the strength to keep going or to accept, with self-compassion, their brave decision to pull out of the race. I celebrated their successes and was in awe of how God has created such strong beings. Empathizing with them, even a little bit, opened the door to a range of beautiful human emotions. Yet, this range is nothing compared to what God experiences.
Unlike us, our Father in heaven can and does experience everything we are going through. He knows the extent of our fatigue and our fulfillment. He knows whether we avidly love all that life has to offer or find ourselves barely hanging on. He cries with us and celebrates with us. Our God knows us like no one else. God is always watching over us, no matter how alone we may feel.
When I arrived at church late the other day, I was pondering how I did not need to feel ashamed because God knows what is happening in my life. As I sat down, instead of feeling judgement, I felt God’s presence like a soft caress on my cheek and the words “Welcome, my friend” entered my heart.
My wish is that we all could remember those words when we are struggling and when we see others struggling. Even if we cannot truly relate to others, I believe small seeds everywhere connect us to each other; we just have to be open and vulnerable enough to seek them out.
We are doing the best we can with what we have. We are striving for love, peace and joy, even if it has been warped. We deserve compassion and respect; it is the only way for our broken world to change. We all are welcome here, and I welcome you. “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7).
(Jenna Ebener, a graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, is a social worker at a school in Colorado for students with a combination of medical, cognitive and behavior disabilities. She relies on God every day to aid her on this wonderful, yet intense journey.)