“Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.”
“I guess you had to be there.”
How many times have you come across that situation? You are trying to explain an experience you’ve had with a friend and the message isn’t getting through. They just sit there with a confused look on their face. They aren’t getting it. Whether it’s a story that brought you such joy, or an event that tore your heart to pieces, no one could feel exactly the way you felt, and words often fall short of what actually happened. Yes, they may be able to relate to your emotions, but your unique experiences that led you to that particular event, are what cause our paths to be different. The same, but different.
No one’s life will be a duplication of yours. That’s done on purpose. What benefit would there be if two of you existed? God had a specific design when he created you. Every day of your life was laid out. Every moment conceived before you were a thought. He knew your name. He knew what school you would attend. He knew what your major was going to be, what career path you would choose, and how many jobs you would lose in the interim. He knew you were going to sneak mom’s car out only to get a flat, then drive it home and plead ignorance. He knew your spouse’s name even before you were out of diapers. He knew how many kids you would have, and how many you would lose. Most of all, He knew what day you would get on your knees and accept Him into your life.
No one is exactly like you. Only you can fully understand the pain or joy of an experience you go through. For instance, when something happens to you, the memories that are brought up are different than the memories someone else would have. Different people, different locations, and different circumstances allow your experience to be unique. Which is good and bad. Good because it adds to your individuality. Bad because there is no real sense of connection with someone else. The only person who could come close is a spouse if the event happened to both of you. Even then the perspectives are different. There is a male and female point of view. The same, but different.
Every experience we have leads to another which leads to another. Good or bad, our hearts rejoice and grieve differently. Some people, when emotions flow, it’s like being on a roller coaster. Up, down and loop-the-loop. Others are like the tide: slowly intensifying, hitting a high, then steadily returning to normal. One person can have something good happen one morning and ride the high for days. Another is looking for the next good thing before lunch. It’s the same for the bad. One event could spoil someone’s entire day, while another will shrug it off and look for the good within the bad that just occurred. Then, there are those who are in-between with variations to their reaction to what’s going on around them. But God has a plan in it all. Your balance is not wrong. It’s how you were made. Remember, You are unique. No one can see through your eyes or feel with your heart.
There is a difference between sympathy and empathy. If I am sympathetic to your situation I can feel for you. It means I’ve felt similar emotions. But to be empathetic is to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Meaning you have experienced the same event. I will use miscarriage as an example: My wife has had two miscarriages. Now, another woman who has children, but never miscarried, can have sympathy for her because she could somewhat imagine what it would have been like if she had lost a child. But my wife’s best friend, who has also been through two miscarriages, can have empathy. She’s been through it. But even though both have shared the experience of having a miscarriage, neither has had the same circumstances surrounding each miscarriage. They are the same, but different.
Pain is not the only thing that we can share in. The same can be said of joy. Graduating High School for one. Most of us have (and if you have a GED, that counts) had that experience, but each one of us climbed a different hill to get there. The birth of a child is another. One unique being bringing another unique being into this world. The same experience, a different joy to each one who has experienced it. And probably the biggest one; every Christian came to the point where they got on their knees and accepted Christ. The joy above all joys. But each experience is different. Even if they attended the same venue. Two people can attend the same Billy Graham crusade and listen to the same message. Both go to the same front to accept the same Christ, but their individual life experiences that led to that moment will be vastly different. Shared joy, the same, but different.
God has made each of us unique. We are “fearfully and wonderfully made”(Ps 139:14). Psalm 139 is my favorite Psalm. It was written by David. He is celebrating the intimate relationship God has with His creation. Each of us is known by God. Luke 12:7 teaches us that even the hairs on our head are numbered. Now if that isn’t knowing someone, I couldn’t tell you what is. He knows you well enough that he knows your pain and your joy. He is more than sympathetic, understanding your emotions. Far beyond empathetic, and walking in your shoes. He is in your heart. He feels what you feel, knows what you know. He has been with you from the beginning, he has experienced every event in your life. Good and bad. And the promise is: “the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you”(Deut. 31:6).
My wife loves the poem “Footprints.” Its unknown author speaks about a man who has passed away. He is walking down a beach with God, watching scenes from his life. He notices their footprints behind them, but he also notices that during the most difficult times in his life there was only one set. He questions God. The Lord informs him of this inexpressible truth. He was never left alone, the Lord carried him through those hard times.
God carries us through our hard times and rejoices with us in our good times. With Him in our hearts, our experiences are His. Only He can fully share in your joy. Only He can truly understand your heartache. For Him, it’s the same, but the same.