In a recent ad campaign designed to draw attention to the poor water quality in Haiti, Haitian children were asked to respond to First World Problem tweets. One child, after the camera pans from pigs and chickens to a broken down building, says, “I hate when I tell them no pickles and they still give me pickles.”
I think it is a good thing to contrast our “agonies” with the struggles of others – it can be good for perspective.
Granted, we do take it too far when we think the “worst thing that could happen” is our internet crashing – but I know what it is like to lose thousands of written words with an untimely blip in the electricity. It is legitimately frustrating. Seeing a meme of an African child without internet doesn’t minimize my experience. It may actually make me feel worse because now I am supposed to feel guilty for my frustration, and I am still frustrated.
I do it too, though. I often attempt to reframe my perspective or that of my others by pointing out how bad someone else has it. “I know you have to share a room with four brothers, but do you realize that entire families our size live in houses the size of your room in some countries?!?” In other words: your pain doesn’t matter, someone else has it worse.
Usually when I do this, I am trying to minimize pain. I want the hurt someone is experiencing to go away, so I offer some perspective. It is a noble goal, but scripture doesn’t teach us to talk other people out of their pain. The Bible calls us to rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15), and to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). Lots of times I add to the suffering of others by prematurely trying to move them from agony to acceptance. I see the hurt and I want to make it better, but I’m not helping.
For example, I did not find comfort in being reminded how many women are childless when I had miscarriages. I ached for those childless women, but I also grieved the death of babies I would never hold. My heartbreak didn’t reveal an underlying ungratefulness for the children that surrounded me, it revealed a heart that was broken by the separation of death – a heart grieved by the brokenness of a fallen world. All the perspective in the world wouldn’t alleviate that grief.
Nor should it.
I am learning (and it is a slow process for me – just ask my kids!) that I need to enter into someone’s pain before I try to examine it.
I want my children to be free to feel a full range of emotions and to be able to share them with me. I want to be a safe place to express the deepest murmurings of their hearts. I won’t get there if I constantly redirect or minimize their pain.
If I respond to a child who is grieved over a broken baby doll with a reminder that she has plenty of other dolls and there are little girls all over the world who have nothing to play with but piles of dirt and stones… I have not minimized her suffering. I have not helped her to be thankful for her many blessings. I’ve just told her that her experience doesn’t matter; someone else has it worse, so her pain doesn’t count.
Minimizing pain is a noble goal, but the path to getting there is sharing in it, not shoving it away.
As a mom, developing a habit of sharing pain needs to start in the things that seem little to me – the broken-doll-type things. When I am willing to recognize and enter into the big pain that a little girl is feeling when her doll is broken (because to her it is a big deal), I am training her to come to me with the big pain of a broken heart. And if she learns to trust me to share her pain as I help her repair a broken doll, she will know she can trust me with her broken heart and that I will help her repair a broken relationship. She will know that she matters. She will know that she counts.
It’s not easy, this “sharing pain.” I want to take it away. I want to do something that will make it all better. But sometimes I simply need to sit in it with them because it is not about me.