Standing outside the hospital room, I awkwardly alternated between lowering my face to the hot cup of coffee below and raising my eyes to the closed door ahead. Behind the door was the young couple who had called me in the early hours of the morning to tell me she had gone into premature labor with their third child, a son.
They had asked me to come to the hospital and pray. I came. I waited. I prayed. With their families hundreds of miles away, I became the makeshift parental nurturer, a sort of stand in for those who had loved them all of their lives.
The look on the young husband’s face as he walked toward me told me what his words did not need to say. The baby did not live. The heaviness of grief caused his shoulders to roll forward in a helpless looking curve. His eyes, large and somber, spoke eloquent description without the help of his tongue. I, myself, was at a loss for words to comfort.
I stayed until the baby had been cleaned and swaddled and the new mother had settled into her room. A few friends had come and gone but I remained, hoping they would think of some practical way I could help. An errand that needed to be run. A chore that needed to be completed. A phone call that needed to be made. Instead they asked if I would like to meet their son.
Both shocked and privileged at the invitation to share such a private and intimate moment, the only reply I knew was “Yes”. Propped up in her bed, the young mother held her tiny bundle in her lap. “This is our son,” she smiled softly, and proceeded to tell me his name. Stroking tiny limbs and a peach fuzzy head, they talked to him in hushed, loving tones. For awhile I didn’t speak. This space was uniquely sacred and sweet. I felt if my breath or words were too heavy they might burst the beautiful invisible bubble that encased us so I sat in silent reverence. Then I said his name.
The mother gently unwrapped the blanket, revealing their perfectly formed miniature baby boy. The three of us sat there, suspended in time, speaking the baby’s name, remarking on specific physical traits and finally ending my visit with prayer.
It was only later that I would realize the significance of what had transpired in that room. Those young parents had needed me to SEE their son, to HEAR and REPEAT his name, indeed to BEAR WITNESS that their child had been. The two older siblings were being brought to the hospital later that day to see their baby brother for their first and last time.
In the days that followed, many would bear witness to this family’s grief but I was among the select few who had been honored to bear witness to their baby’s actual existence. And I knew that SEEING what they had LOST helped validate their pain and I held that experience like the sacred trust that it was.
We all need to have our pain seen and heard, if only by one.
I have come to believe that the only thing worse than feeling pain is not having that pain recognized. Victims of child molestation often say that worse than the acts perpetrated on them is the deeper feeling of betrayal and disregard when their story is discounted or dismissed as unimportant or untrue. Others validating our hurtful experiences doesn’t take them away but the comfort of it helps heal our wounds and the acknowledgement of it helps restore our sense of self. We all need to have our pain seen and heard, if only by one.
I love the story of Hagar, recorded in the twenty-first chapter of Genesis. Banished into the wilderness through no choice or fault of her own, she is sent out with only bread, a bottle of water and her son. Later, utterly abandoned and depleted of resources, she places Ishmael under a shrub and distances herself because she cannot bear to watch him die. Can you even imagine the desolation and pain she felt? The utter hopelessness? The absolute aloneness?
But God SAW her! And Scripture plainly states that He HEARD the voice of her son crying. And because He saw and heard, He supplied a well of water to sustain them. As you know, Ishmael survived and later became the father of a great nation. But the important part of the story for me is that GOD SAW and GOD HEARD.
God saw and God Heard.
It was easy for me to see the pain in the situation of the young couple who had lost their child at birth. But sometimes the hurt is hidden, it’s silent and it has been given no name. Unfortunately I’m sure there have been times I have neglected to see or hear another’s pain when it was not visibly tangible. Your pain may not be from a death, a financial loss or a physical illness. Yours may be a secret pain that has been lodged in the deep crevices of your heart for years. You may be crying on the inside but feel that no one sees or hears. Or you may have expressed your pain only to have it minimized and negated. If so, I wish for you a friend who truly listens and who sees beyond the external. A friend who recognizes your hurt and gives credence to what your heart feels.
I also wish for you a relationship with God that is so genuine that you are never unaware of His attention that is always being lavished upon you. If you are wandering in a desert experience like Hagar in this moment please take comfort in knowing that HE SEES, HE HEARS and HE CARES.
I would also love to hear from you. I cannot take the pain away but by sharing it you will have fleshed it out into something that can be validated and treated with the respect it deserves. If you invite me into that sacred space, I will come. I will wait. I will pray. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And with us will be the Ever Faithful One, Jehovah God, who is known by many names. One of my favorites is “El ROI”, which translated from the Hebrew means THE GOD WHO SEES.