A year and a half ago, another family that I know and love was plunged into the world of type 1 juvenile diabetes when their nine-year-old son was taken to the hospital with dangerous symptoms. In a moment, their world was turned upside down. They suddenly became experts in the difference between type one and type two diabetes and what ketones and insulin were. They were introduced into the subculture of families who deal with this disease 24/7 and they began to figure out what their "new normal" was.
In some ways, completely different from one another.
In other ways, not so much.
I am very familiar with the idea that no one truly understands a bereaved mother like another bereaved mother. And I agree. It is a club that no one would ever want to join, but once you are in, you meet the strongest, most amazing people in the world, and they have your back. They understand my crazy emotions. They have nurtured me from devastation back to spiritual fullness over and over again.
I would guess the same is true for my friend and her son's journey with diabetes. I do not "get" her struggle the way another mom with a diabetic child does. In fact, the Bible says in Proverbs 14:10, "The heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy" (NIV). I cannot fully understand the pain in my friend's heart any more than she can fully understand mine.
But I can enter into her pain, her struggle, by remembering how I felt when my world collapsed. I can avoid saying stupid things (like anything beginning with at least) by remembering what did not help me when I was hurting. I can carefully offer comfort by digging deep and remembering how God comforted me, through His word and through the words and actions of others. I can do all of this, with no personal experience with juvenile diabetes, because of his promise in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (NIV).
Did you catch that amazing promise? It's actually hidden in verse 4, in a small word - any. God's comfort enables us to comfort others, regardless of what affliction it is. At the same time, when it is an affliction that is foreign to us, we must do that carefully and respectfully, with humility.
It does not mean that we announce to a hurting friend who has lost her husband, "I know how you feel because I lost my ________ [fill in the blank with anything other than a spouse]." It does not mean we blithely share the Bible verse that helped us, assuming that it must help our friend, too. It does not mean expecting your friend to "recover" as quickly as you did or in exactly the same way.
It does mean digging deep to remember how it felt to be devastated, to have your world view rocked by your circumstances, to feel abandoned by God. It does mean sacrificially walking the road of hurt again, in your memories, because those memories will strengthen you to help another. It does mean remembering what helped, and what didn't, and ever-so-gently, humbly, with respect for the sacred realm of another's affliction, offering that to a friend.
You can comfort others with the comfort you have received from God, even if your circumstances were quite different. Yes, there is a certain depth of comfort restricted to those who are fellow travelers on the same road. But there is a sweet comfort that those on parallel roads can offer as well. Don't be afraid to reach out with that, in the same way God reached out to you.
How has God comforted you in the past? How can you use that to reach out to others?