I ordered a new bed a few weeks ago. Before I ordered it, I listened and tried to help my husband as he talked about his sore back. “I think it’s the bed,” he said. Now, listen, yeah the bed is old because it was bought on the cheap years ago, but my back wasn’t hurting. I suggested different things as my meager offering of help. Mostly, I listened. It wasn’t until we switched sides, until I laid where he normally lays that I understood. “Uhm what, this is terrible. I get what you’re saying now,” I said.
What strikes me the most here is that we literally sleep in the same bed inches apart from one another; we have for years. But I had no clue the experience that he was having on the other side of those few inches. Until I slept where he slept. After I switched to his side, then it all made sense—the sore back, the bad sleep, and all the stuff that comes from not getting great sleep.
How often am I in a situation where I’m trying to help or even where I find myself judging when I really have no idea what experience the other person is having? My husband is in my orbit daily, often only inches from my fingertips. That close and we still don’t understand the others’ experience. How much more do I not understand the experience of someone else who isn’t that close to me on a daily basis.
Basically, what I really mean to say is that I can’t know or fully understand another’s experience (even if we’re experiencing the same thing: sleeping on the same mattress, going to college, living in a small town, etc.). Basically, what I really mean to say is that empathy is underrated. Listening is too. And, sometimes physically moving to be where they are is too.
We sat today at the kitchen table, reclining after our usual scrambled eggs. The moment caught me by surprise because I was feeling a bit stressed and borderline overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff in our apartment coupled with the stuff of our life, both present and future. I was attempting to explain those thoughts in my head and the feeling in my body. I fumbled through the words, not quite grasping the essence of the experience. I tried to make the unsayable sayable, like Rilke talked about. But it was hard. No word had ever entered the space I was describing.
And that was it. That was the moment. I looked at him, my brow furrowed in concentration, trying to select the right words and he, blue eyes intent on listening, seeking to understand, a half smile encroaching on his face. I wondered if he could ever truly understand my unsayable especially if I’m not even able to make it sayable. Perhaps he won’t, perhaps he can’t. I want to write that when rare moments of true understanding happen it is magic.
But, this morning all I thought was wow, this is marriage. This is what we bring to the table: one person who can’t explain herself perfectly and one person who can’t explain himself perfectly. It’s true grace that marriages even work at all with two people trying to explain the precise feeling they’re carrying in their body. They’re hopeful and eager to be understood, but in reality, they likely won’t be because their very words are flawed, not doing the experience justice.
We have a greater hope and I think that’s how a lot of relationships are possible. We put our biggest hope in the Lord who does understand what we can’t find words for. We work to explain as best we can to our spouses, but know that they might not get it because we, ourselves, barely get it. Grace abounds in those areas of gaps and misunderstandings because it has to; it thrives in gaps and misunderstandings. Grace abounds as we bring our frustrations to the Lord: “they just don’t get it”, we cry.
What I really mean to say is that total, complete understanding of my feelings might not be the goal of the marriage I have with John. It isn’t fair for me to expect that from him either. He’s not God. God is God and for that, praise Jesus. God, the creator of our bodies and all they carry, understands comprehensively.
Practically speaking, is that enough? Good question. Let me know your thoughts—I’m still working through it myself. 😉
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