Parker Palmer is a writer that blesses me. He shares honestly about his life and faith. In his book, "Let Your Life Speak" he shares his deep and profound struggle with depression. His depression disconnected him from himself, his feelings, his faith, his friends. He felt isolated.

He writes about some of the things that didn't help. One was when someone would say, "I know exactly how you feel. . . ." He said that he didn't hear anything beyond that because he knew that the person was peddling falsehood.  No one can know the mystery of the depth of another person. This desire to over-identify with another just made him feel more isolated.

Then Parker says, "One of the hardest things we must do sometimes is to be present to another person’s pain without trying to ‘fix’ it, to simply stand respectfully at the edge of that person’s mystery and misery."

How true it is. "Simply stand respectfully at the edge of that person's mystery and misery." The deeper in pain a person goes, the more mystery they discover. They can share that mystery only in fragments. We who stand with them can only glimpse the misery, the mystery. We can only receive those glimpses as gifts.

Maybe the best we can do for each other is to stay close and respect the borders between ourselves and them, thus honoring their unique and mysterious experience of life. It may not sound like much, but respecting another person in their misery might be the most important gift they can receive.


A number of people I love are in pain--emotional, physical, psychological, spiritual. I hate it!!  I want to fix it. It seems to be a natural impulse for me to want to do something--anything--to reduce pain of those I love.

But that can be a problem. Most of the time I can't fix it!! Pain seems to be uniquely individual. Each of us experience it in our own way. The only way we can get beyond it is to go through it. We can try to avoid it, but mostly it comes back, sooner or later and has to be dealt with.

Now one of the problems with my wanting to fix the situation that creates pain for others is that, since I mostly can do nothing to fix it, I am tempted to avoid people in pain.  It is frustrating to feel like I should fix the problem and not have the ability to actually do that.  I feel helpless. In order to avoid frustration, I may be tempted at times to just crawl into the safety of my own world and not show up in the lives of those who hurt.

But, I know from my own experience of pain that having people accompany me in my pain can be helpful. The presence of people who know me and who care for me is really important.  It is important when they come along side of me and walk with me in that pain.  I know that others can't fix the problem and move life back before the painful experience occurred, but it helps me carry my pain when others hold it with me.

And the presence that is most helpful is that which comes gently into my space. Those who try to insist that they have to be with me may be helpful at times, but the most helpful people are those who are near by, waiting and ready when I feel the need to reach out.  It is those who remind me from time to time that they are available. It is those who email, who send a card, who phone.  Just a reminder of their potential presence.

So, if you know someone who is hurting--don't avoid them just because you feel helpless to fix their problem. Respect them enough to allow them to have their own pain, but love them enough to be willing to share time with them when they desire it.