• Dana L. Butler

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A Facebook friend recently shared a deep grief with a small group of us: she had miscarried a baby.  The date that would have been her due date was approaching.  She bared her soul, exposed her raw guts and grief, and in doing so, exhibited profound trust in the Lord and in her sisters.

As I went to comment on her post, my heart was to express empathy and compassion.  To express that my heart ached for her over her loss.

But I found myself in the craziest battle.  This THING inside of me DESPERATELY wanted to say something like, “I’ve been there too.  I get this.  I understand your loss, your pain.”

I restrained myself.  Said something along the lines of, “May Jesus tenderly, tangibly hold your heart, friend.”  I somehow didn’t say “I’ve been there.”

But oh, how many times I’ve said it.

This is a very, very common thing for us humans.  We hear and experience other people’s stories through the filter of our own.  We listen autobiographically.  We may not intend to, but as we hear others’ stories we are subconsciously listening for moments where we can jump in and say, “Oh! Me too! I’ve walked that road too!”

We want to identify with each other, especially in our painful experiences.  And that’s not bad.  But sometimes, it’s better not to share those pieces of our stories.  At least, not yet.

WHY?

I really believe that at some level, once we’ve experienced a loss, we become a bit defined by it.  Actually, some people become more than just a bit defined by it.  Some people become so defined by their griefs that even 7 years after the fact, they might as well have it written on their foreheads: “I’ve been through hell.”

But even if we don’t put on our pain like we don our clothes in the morning, we still become a little defined by it.  It becomes part of our identity.

Example: I am a: Child of God, wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend, worship leader, writer, and I’ve lost 3 babies plus our precious foster daughter that we parented from birth till almost 2.

Now.  All of that is true.  And when I think of myself, of who I am, of the experiences that have shaped me, every single one of those things comes to mind.  Especially my losses.

So when a friend or acquaintance experiences a loss, of COURSE a huge part of me wants to jump up and down and wave my hand in the air and holler, “Me too!  Me too!  I know what you mean!  I know how you feel!”

BUT

Sometimes, it’s better to entirely let. go. of our need to identify, our need to prove we can relate.

When I think back to my own losses, the people with whom I’ve felt the safest in the midst of my grief?  They were the ones who just sat with me in it.  Who ached with me and put an arm around me and maybe cried with me.  The ones who said, “Oh my heart just breaks for you,” and left it at that.

Those people are like a warm pool of healing balm and my heart feels like it can slip in and move around freely and just be and heal.

Then there are the other people.  The ones with good intentions but a need to talk about how they’ve been there.  How they understand how I feel.

When someone’s grieving, we tend to think they want someone to identify with them.  But when we say our “Me too’s” and our “I understand”s, a lot of the time what we’re actually doing is crowding right into that pool of healing balm with the person whose loss is fresh.  The person who really needs that pool all to themselves.  We’re taking up space that they need.  And while it might make us feel better to say, “I know how you feel.  I’ve been there,” it doesn’t actually help the grieving person.  It steals from them.  It draws their attention to our pain rather than their grief process.  It pulls their focus off of their own loss and demands that they focus on your loss, even if just for a minute.

This isn’t helpful.  And ultimately, it isn’t loving.

I’ve done this, y’all.  Time and time again.  A friend has shared a loss with me and I’ve immediately jumped in with

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