Have you ever been in a circumstance where you wished you could give the person you were interacting with a glimpse of what it felt like to be you? A new understanding, deeper compassion, richer revelation, or maybe just a clue what it is like from the other side?
When I was young my grandfather told me that we all need to spend some time in life working a service job. He advised that it would teach what is was really like to be on the other side. He also used to say that when you are young, work in a restaurant because you may be broke, but you will never go hungry.
It is so true. When I was in school I worked as a waitress. I did have plenty to eat, and I learned so much about serving others. If you eat out with me, you’ll often see me doing things I picked up as a waitress; stacking plates, putting everything in one area of the table, wiping up crumbs with a napkin before I leave.
You may also see me leave a note for the server, or make a note about the server on my receipt. So many places have satisfaction surveys that offer opportunity to honor or commend employees I interact with. Having specifics noted down helps make writing the comments easier (and it helps me to remember because I see the note when I balance my financial accounts with my receipts.)
It is much easier to understand when you have seen, experienced, and lived the other side.
It is often joked around about that it is easier to have great ideals of parenting when you are not a parent. Who is most compassionate towards the mother of three in the store whose middle child is having a meltdown, whose older child is complaining, and whose youngest child is adding random things to the cart?
Chances are pretty good the most compassionate one towards this situation is the mother whose oldest child is married, whose middle child is in college, and whose youngest is busy in high school. She remembers those days on the other side. She knows the exhaustion and frustration. She knows the energy, effort, and expense of a shopping trip with three kids.
These are brief illustrations of what it means to be on the other side. I believe the interactions that bring us the greatest struggles are when we so badly want those closest to us to see the other side but they do not.
Think of how hard it can be to say No to something that a friend or family member really wants you to do, or to give, or to be, or to accept from them. When we decline that offer, it introduces disappointment into the situation. There are often strong emotions to go along with the let down. Those emotions, which are a natural human experience, can drive disgruntled reactions, casting blame and shame towards the one who said no.
The rise of emotions can create a blockade that prevents us from seeing or understanding the other side.
I am regretful to look back upon my life and see the times that I, in my disappointment, was upset and angry with someone for saying no to me. When my dissatisfaction led to overly sensitive interpretations, suspected intentions, and irrational assumptions.
As I sit here today, I know that I can only look back and see those times in my life standing out now because of the experience of the coin being flipped and being on the other side.
Instead of being the one who was disappointed, I was the one saying no and being the disappointer. From a point of exhaustion, knowing what my personal limits were, I said no to someone very close to me. I, from a very low place, experienced an extremely large wall go up quickly and accusations falling very fast in attack.
A person who only days before had told me it was healthy and wise to not have words to fully express how I was feeling, that it was okay to not say much, was now telling me I was plastic and selfish for not sharing more with them.
From my side, I thought I was doing the best that I could. I knew saying no would be a disappointment, but I didn’t fully realize the wall that would go up, the hurt that would be felt, and the shame that would accost me. In my low times, I wonder if I should have just said yes and gone along with it.
As I sit on my side of the wall, I wonder. Was I wrong? Am I a bad person for saying no? Are those painful things they said about me really true? If those things are really true, does that mean the nice things that others say to me are all false? I wrote a letter of apology. I said I was sorry several times.
The wall is still up. Communication has ceased. On my side it is because I fear the use of any more words on my part will just make the situation worse.
But, my prayers continue. I pray so often for that person.
Recently, I have started to pray that when they are in complicated circumstances when they feel they have to say No, that they would be received with great compassion and met with friendly bridges built for the future instead of finding walls being built before their eyes.
I look at the wall and I ask God for blessings upon their life, their family, their work, their community. I selfishly ask Him to reveal a bit of understanding to what it is like on the other side.
Then the Lord brings to my recollection times when I put the wall up and threw down accusations. Showing me when I was on the other side with the stone of sin in my hands. I hold that dirty rock, and just cry. I call out, “Lord, what have I done. I am so sorry.” I weep.
You know what the Lord does in that ugly moment?
God takes the stone from my hand. The dirt that remains He warmly washes away. Then the Lord applies a healing balm and a kiss right to my palm. He says, “it is hard to see this way, but it is good because these thoughts will transform your mind and renew your life.”
The Lord reminds me that I am not capable of carrying the wall, or holding it upon my shoulders, or the weight of it upon my heart. As much as I would like to take the wall away, I am not capable of that either.
But, I know the Lord who can. I am really starting to learn that contentment is recognizing God’s presence in the moments of our lives. The good moments, the bad moments, and the moments we feel walled off on the other side.
God is on all sides of the walls, at all times.
“May the God who gives
endurance and encouragement
give you the same
attitude of mind toward each other
that Christ Jesus had,
so that with one mind and one voice
you may glorify the God and
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Romans 15:5-6 (NIV)
God can give us an “attitude of mind towards each other that Christ Jesus had.” This means even if we can not fully understand what someone is going through or what things are like on the other side we can look towards people with eyes compassion, hear with understanding ears, feel with a heart of love, and move forward building bridges instead of walls.
Live it Out
What circumstances and interactions in your life have left you wishing that people would be able to understand the other side?
Are you a parent who deeply desires that others could see your child through your eyes, giving greater patience & more time, so they could accept your little one with love?
Are you a teacher who wished that people really knew what was going on in your classroom as you spend great amounts of effort & expense meeting needs?
Are you a farmer whose home and business are so interwoven they can’t be separated, who is facing rises costs, lower sale prices, continuing to pour sweat, tears, and even blood into your operations living a very different definition of a work day?
Are you a spouse wishing for greater connection, wanting to rekindle passion, but finding the resources to fuel the flames are meager at best?
Are you a manager who takes work home, who collects the little parts from each employee fervently piecing things together to keep the big picture in view?
Are you the employee who is picking up a little extra here or a little extra there to be a good member of the team, while balancing a plate of family responsibilities and activities in one hand or the other?
Whatever the situations that you are in personally, whatever longing you have in your heart that you wish others would better understand, know that you are not alone on the other side.
No matter how tall, how terrifying the wall. No matter what accusations or stones are being thrown upon you. Even if you are the one holding the stone in anger. You are not alone. The Lord is with YOU.
The Lord has perfect understanding on all sides of the wall. The Lord knows all about the situation. He witnessed the build up first hand. He experienced the fallout in the moment. He will walk through the aftermath with all involved.
God will give endurance and encouragement, not just to survive the situation or the circumstances, but that we may receive the same attitude of mind towards each other as Christ Jesus.
Pray Through It
Beloved Lord, it hurts so badly to be highly misunderstood. It is terribly painful to be deeply disappointment. It is so easy to get caught up in those emotions and react on either side. Walls go up. Stones come down. Division. Assumptions. Distrust. Accusations.
Lord, You know. We are so grateful that You understand not just the hows, wheres, and whys, but that You understand how to use these messes to reveal a message to us. You can breakdown walls to build bridges. When we are bruised before the wall, we can’t clearly see the bridge that will build the way. But, You can God!
We won’t be able to fully know the other side, but we can trust that You do. You can turn us towards others no matter what side we are currently on. Help us to reach out with open arms, words of life, and strength of spirit.
Today Lord, give us all endurance and encouragement. Bless us with minds that have the attitude towards each other that Jesus has for us. An attitude of compassion, an attitude of love, and an attitude rich in forgiveness.
In the name of Jesus who Himself has walked the other side, amen.