A few months ago, I went through my first break-up. The song was right when it said, “Breaking up is hard to do.” I produced an impressive amount of salt-water, and within the first week had exited both a bridal shower and a wedding reception with tears spilling down my cheeks. Even though I believed the Lord was leading us to end the relationship, I was still grieving.
During this time, the Lord blessed me with friends and family who did not immediately resort to trite phrases like, “God has someone better for you!” or “Everything happens for a reason,” or even, “Oh, can I introduce you to my cousin’s neighbor now?” Instead, they said things like:
“How are you doing?”
“I’ve been there. I know it stinks.”
“I love you.”
“I’m praying for you.”
Someone said, “I don’t need to know what happened. But I want you to know it was his loss.” Even though I very much felt like it was my loss, I still think that was a lovely thing to tell someone in the midst of a break-up.
With these words, my friends and family gave me the gift of acknowledgement. They recognized a hard time in my life, and then they started a conversation about it. Sometimes I think we want to rush too quickly to comforting people before we stop and sit for a moment in the place where they are, just asking how they’re doing and affirming that it isn’t easy. Look at the root of that word: acknowledgement. Don’t we all want to feel known? The people we love might not be able to fix our problems, but we want them to understand our lives.
Jesus leads the way in knowing and understanding. Isaiah 53:3 calls Him “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (ESV). In His earthly life, He experienced rejection, deprivation, and loss. He understands suffering. In Hebrews 4:15, we learn that Jesus’ incarnation gives Him empathy for our all-too-human condition: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (ESV).
God not only knows our struggles firsthand, He also knows us personally. Psalm 139 tells us that God searches us and knows us; He even knows the words we are going to say before they come out of our mouths. One of His Old Testament names is El Roi, “the God who sees” (Genesis 16:13 NIV). Ponder that one for a while.
There are two lessons I draw from these passages. First, I can rejoice in being the child of a God who knows me perfectly and knows exactly what it feels like to be in my shoes.
Second, I want to follow the examples of my friends and family who checked in with me in the weeks and months following my break-up. I want to see the people around me and try to understand their lives. Romans 12:15 tells us to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (NIV). I think the beautiful thing about the gift of acknowledgement is that it is appropriate for both rejoicing and mourning. What’s more, it can be given and received regardless of relationship status, emotional state, or previous experience.
For example, it can be hard for me as a single person to fully enter into the joys and sorrows of my friends as they become spouses and parents. I don’t always know how to be a good friend through milestones like engagement, marriage, birth or loss of a child, home ownership, or divorce. In fact, I probably can’t rejoice or mourn with those friends as well as someone who has been there; they need others who have gone before them to encourage, comfort, or advise them through those times. In the same way, my friends who married young will never fully understand my life through three decades of singleness, making my friendships with other singles extremely valuable! But one thing we can all give each other is a conversation acknowledging each person’s experience:
“I heard your mom had a stroke. That must be so hard. How are you doing?”
“I’ve never dealt with depression. I’m so sorry you’re hurting.”
“You just started dating someone! He sounds great! Hooray!”
“You finished a Ph.D. while raising a family. What an accomplishment! Congratulations!”
I admit I often fail to do even this much, but I am grateful for others who have done it for me. And in all things, I am grateful for El Roi, my God who sees me.
How have you been given the gift of acknowledgement? How have you given it to others?
Alison Lentz is a thirty-something single living in the best state in the Union — Iowa. She spent three years working as an English teacher in China before returning to the States to work as a speech therapist for people recovering from brain injuries. Alison’s favorite writers are Charlotte Bronte, L.M. Montgomery, C.S. Lewis, and, yes, Dave Barry. Find more of her writing at alisonrosewrites.blogspot.com.