Just three years old, Hudson is a loving and easy going child. He is kind to everyone, free with his affection and easy to please. While most people are on his “You’re OK” list, by far his favorite person is the one he calls “Mom”. Hudson attended a Mother’s Day Out program two days a week this past year. Almost every day on the playground he would select one of the small rocks from the ground to take home to his mother. One day when he had chosen a larger rock and stuffed it in his pocket, his teacher tried to convince him to leave it on the playground. “No,” he replied tearfully, “this is for my mommy and I have to take it to her!” Seeing how insistent he was, the teacher relented and smiled as he trudged back to class with the big bulge in the side of his pants.
His mom, my daughter-in-law, showed me the jar where she kept the rocks Hudson brought home to her. She described to me the pride with which he would reach into his pocket and present to her his “gift”. What could have been seen merely as a worthless pebble became a prized treasure as it passed through a small three-year-old’s hand.
I love that my daughter-in-law assigned value to the very common and ordinary gift she was given. Her response was one which we all should adopt when gifts are given from the heart. I’m sorry to say that sometimes we seem to appreciate a gift which comes in a material form more than one which can’t be seen or touched. When someone becomes vulnerable enough to share with us their hurt or pain, they place within our hands a sacred trust. By allowing us a window into their inner world they present to us the priciest and most precious gift of all. Negating or discounting their feelings would be the equivalent of Hudson’s mom saying, “What? Why in the world did you bring me those stupid rocks off the playground?” Unthinkable, I know.
When someone becomes vulnerable enough to share with us their hurt or pain, they place within our hands a sacred trust.
The last chapter of the book of Hebrews contains a couple of verses that encourage us to honor the gift of sharing someone else’s pain:
“Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; them that are ill-treated, as being yourselves also in the body.” (Heb. 13:3)
This next verse seems to give God’s perspective on compassionate and caring responses:
“But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” (Heb. 13:16)
Generally speaking, when people share with us they are not expecting answers or even solutions. They usually just want to be HEARD. Often the best thing we can do is simply to affirm their feelings and acknowledge their pain. An appropriate response like, “I can see you are hurting”, is sometimes all that is needed to make them feel valued and understood. And for heaven’s sake, don’t repeat information which was likely given to you on the assumption that it would go no further! That is a definite misuse of the gift of their trust.
Often the best thing we can do is simply to affirm their feelings and acknowledge their pain.
When I was a college student dating the guy who would eventually become my husband, I made the poor decision to hand fashion him a sports coat for Christmas. My sister, who had been designing and sewing clothes since junior high school had told me she was making one for her fiancé. I figured, “Why not?” Well the fact that I hated sewing was one good why. The fact that it took me twice or three times as long to do anything involving seamstress work as it did my sister should have been another clue. But never one to back away from a challenge I plowed ahead in my well meaning efforts.
I discreetly asked David what size coat he wore so I could select the pattern and fabric and present him with the grand prize of my labor of love. Since my dad had been the only important man in my life up to that point, I had no idea men’s jackets were not only sized in regular but in long and extra long as well. My dad, at 5’8”, wore a size 38, so when David told me his jacket size was a 44, I eagerly took off to the fabric store to equip myself with the goods and notions needed to complete my task.
I worked tirelessly for days and weeks and yes, a few months (Did I say that I’m extraordinarily slow when it comes to sewing)? After burning the midnight oil for a few nights to meet my Christmas Eve deadline, I proudly and carefully wrapped the coat in a large box with beautiful shiny paper. I could hardly wait for him to open it!
When he opened the gift he seemed to be pleased with the fabric and style I had chosen. I beamed with pride as I announced, “I made it. All of it. Just for you!” The Christmas lights were glowing especially bright UNTIL he decided to try the jacket on. This was perhaps the only jacket I have ever seen on someone which appeared to be too tight in places, too bulky in others and which did not actually seem to fit in even one single place. David, at 6’4” with a long torso, had apparently needed a 44XL and not a 44 regular! I had no idea.
I beamed with pride as I announced, “I made it. All of it. Just for you!”
Standing in the middle of the room, he tried to button the coat and make his body somehow fit the frame I had constructed. If you’ve ever watched the old sitcom, Beverly Hillbillies, Jethro Bodine bore a strong resemblance to the handsome, gawky hunk who stood in the middle of our living room with his arms hanging two inches below the tips of his sleeves.
With a nervous chuckle his response was, “Uh, was this suppose to FIT?” All I could think of was the countless hours I had toiled on a gift that apparently was not appreciated. When I burst into tears David tried to comfort me by apologizing for his ill timed wisecrack, told me he loved the coat and promised to wear it. Naturally, I didn’t want my boyfriend going around looking like Jethro Bodine so I told him he didn’t have to wear it. I later found a neighbor who wore a 44R and gave the jacket to him. I also swore that I would never sew David another thing and to this day, he has a hard time even getting me to put a hem in his ripped pants.
The disappointment of the gift I gave was magnified because with it I had given a part of MYSELF. So it is when someone shares their feelings with us. To scoff or criticize or even to ignore is to reject something important they have stitched together in words. We not only devalue the GIFT; we devalue the PERSON.
King Lemuel was instructed by his mother on the qualifications of a good wife. “Her mouth she has opened in wisdom and the law of loving-kindness is upon her tongue.” (Proverbs 31:26) May it be said of all of us that loving-kindness is the hallmark of our speech and that when given the gift of someone sharing their heart it becomes a treasure we will always keep.