One of the things this season of life is teaching me is how to better empathize with others.
I realized recently that many of my single friends are likely experiencing a version of what I am now – this longing for a season of life that has not yet happened. Maybe, like me, you face daily reminders that you are not where you want to be – they show up multiple times a day, reminding you that you are behind. You feel like there are massive roadblocks keeping you from a role you were meant to play. You feel silly being reduced to tears over the desire to be somewhere different from where you are right now. It feels wrong to be devastated by your goal to be in a life-giving, loving relationship not coming true in your desired time, but you are devastated nonetheless.
Friend, you have every right to feel that way.
I have so many amazing, attractive, successful friends who are single. I see all their incredible qualities and it seems to me that it is given that one day they will meet their match. I want to believe they will be rewarded for their years of faithfully waiting for that person and pursuing the callings on their lives while being open to love if it crosses their paths. I believe this because they have so much to offer, and because they deserve it. They seem to be doing everything right. But me telling my single friends that I know marriage will happen for them is not helpful, because I do not actually know that. My words are hopeful, but devoid of meaning.
When our friends are going through tough times, especially when they are sharing something painful with us, we tend to try to soothe their pain and offer advice. We offer platitudes because suffering and unrealized dreams make us feel uncomfortable. We want to fix it, make it better. We try to offer hope, but it often feels empty and falls flat.
Telling each other success stories is how we aim to prove that things will get better, that there is hope. And sometimes, we do find hope in those stories. But we need to be careful not to take one person’s story and use it as a rule for all people’s stories. It is a beautiful thing to have hope, but it’s another to make blanket statements and say because something happened for one person, it will happen for all of us.
We need to give ourselves and others permission to grieve instead of downplaying the reality of the suffering. Pretending that our circumstances are trivial or comparing our pain in degree to others’ does not make it less painful. Instead, it metastasizes as we try to push it down and ignore it.
Can we not trivialize the pain and try to make it go away? Can we instead just sit and say that yes, it sucks? Yes, it is hard. Can we practice acknowledging that it exists and just be with one another?
God has promised me certain things in my conversations with Him – that I will be a mother, one way or another – but it is not as worthwhile to hang on to those promises as it is to hang on to the One who made the promises in the first place. I believe in a promise-keeping God, because I know that to be His character. He is good. He is love. And He is trustworthy despite my circumstances. He has shown up before, throughout the course of history, and fulfilled promises for His people. But answered prayers often look far different from our expectations. There are plenty of unrealized promises still lingering.
So how do we acknowledge suffering and longing, but not dwell in it, refusing to move? What does it look like for you to choose joy?
Erika is a dinner group leader and coach at Hoboken Grace. You can read more about faith, relationships, and life lessons on her blog, Married in Mile Square City.