We all hurt at times. But, when someone we love is hurting deeply, it is really hard. I know it is harder for me when my wife, my children, my grandchildren hurt than when I hurt. The hurting of others reaches deeply inside of us.

We try to find words that reach into our loved one and ease the hurt. But, words are really hard to find. When pain is pressing in on another, the words feel as if they don’t reach in far enough to ease that pain. We feel helpless.

When we do speak words, we sometimes try to talk them out of their pain. We try to remind them that it will get better. We try to reason with that which, inside our bodies or hearts feels unreasonable. Sometimes we find ourselves talking just because it feels like we need to do something.

When the pain continues we may find that we get angry. We don’t know where to focus the anger. The person we love doesn’t deserve our anger. The pain is stealing the spirit of the one on whom we depend to be who they were. Our anger is a response to not having the power to make the pain go away. We might even pull away to protect ourselves from hurting so much.

But, I think that the most important thing for us to do is move closer. When words don’t ease the pain, maybe a touch will. When pain persists, maybe silent embrace could give comfort in thepain. When pain does not go away, maybe trying to share the pain will make it a little easier for our loved one to bear it. Maybe a sharing a cup of tea or a taste of chocolate will allow some pleasure to seep inside the suffering spaces. 

Life has its suffering. Be present to it. Hold it with each other. It won’t necessarily go away but maybe we can help each other live more fully in the pain.



Everyone hurts. Some have external signs they are hurting. They may have an obvious physical wound that creates pain. They may have physical limitations that make it painful to do daily tasks. They may have been injured and their body is bleeding. They may have signs of pain on their face that communicates to those around them. 

But the hurt of others may be deeply buried. A childhood abuse—the death of love—the shattered dream. Some may have deep wounds of rejection or so ridiculed as children that they feel unable to make it socially. Some may live such lonely and desperate lives with such a smile that no one around them can believe they have very little desire to continue.

Whether the hurt is obvious or hidden, it exists. And I try to remember that when I am engaged with others. Our souls are repositories of painful events and those events generally shape our reactions to what is going on around us.

Because I believe this, there are a couple of things that I try do. One is to give others the benefit of the doubt. When someone flips me off when I inadvertently cut in front of them in the car, I try to remember that they may have had a terrible day.  When someone responds angrily at something that I say or do, I try to remember that they may be speaking out of a pain about which I know  nothing.

And because I believe everyone hurts, I try to be patient with others when they are impatient with me. Their hurt may be so deep that it causes them to fear something that I say or some action that I might take. They may react rather than respond. If I am patient, I may be able to help them speak their fear and then I can approach them with tenderness are care.

When we assume that everyone hurts, being patient and giving the benefit of the doubt is a kind thing to do.


We are drawn to compassionate people. Yet, it isn't always easy to be compassionate. In his book, "The Roots of Sorrow: A Pastoral Theology of Suffering", Phil Zylla develops a way to talk about God and suffering. One of the movements that we must make if we are to try to talk about faith and pain is to move from indifference to compassion.

Compassion literally means, "to suffer with." But, Mr Zylla believes that this doesn't fully reflect what Christian compassion is.  It isn't simply to find yourself in a place where others suffer and to stand with them. He says that "compassion is the capacity to move toward suffering rather [than] away from it." He believes that in this regard, compassion isn't natural. He suggests that we are repelled by suffering. We prefer to move away from it rather than to it.

I understand what he is getting at. I would agree that we often avoid suffering of others. But, I also know that when we have a deep and abiding connection to the other, we are drawn toward their suffering. If our child is injured, we are drawn to them. If our sibling is in pain, we are impelled to move toward the pain. There is a desire to share the pain with the hope that our presence might help ease the suffering.

But Mr Zylla is right in that many cases we move away from suffering of those we don't know. We often don't know what to do and don't like to be somewhere that we are helpless. That is why it is often helpful to be part of organizations such as the church who create opportunities for us to be compassionate--to move toward suffering rather than away from it. With some guidance and some presence of others, we gain courage to share suffering with others.

What communities are you part of that help you develop your compassion? What kind of suffering are you willing to walk toward?  


Every adult I know has one. I know no one who does not have a heart peppered with scars. Hearts who love are hearts that are broken—by death, disappointment, divorce, betrayal, misunderstanding, denied dreams.  Everyone who has loved has felt deep wounds in the losses that are part of our changing lives.

So, this means that what we have to give each other is love by a broken heart. We are imperfect and scarred. Parts of our heart are not working as generously as other parts. Some of what we have to give is distorted by wounds that have not yet healed. We dare to give love to each other knowing that we do not have our whole heart engaged. The scars on our hearts often hide pain that still lies below the surface and so we give love tinged with pain.

And we give this broken, scarred love to others who have similar wounds. We are all seeking to be loved with a purity that will fill us up and most of the time others do not have that capacity. Their wounds caution them to hold back, to not give it all, as they try to love without opening themselves to another heart-break. So, we are all long for love without limits from hearts that are limited by scars.

So, since we all are wounded and scarred, maybe we can learn to receive the love that is given from courageous souls who know what it means to be broken. And maybe knowing this can ignite our courage to dare to love another, knowing that we too will disappoint even as we have been disappointed.  And knowing this, maybe rather than judging the love of another, we can learn to cherish it , as broken as it is, as a life-giving gift.


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.