It's a phrase we have heard from many people in these past couple of weeks. And I understand, and appreciate, the sentiment behind it. No one is trying to say, "I know how you feel, I understand what you're going through." No one is trying to fake that, and I appreciate that. But then the opposite is shared, which sometimes, the opposite of bad isn't always good. "I can't even imagine" is true, but it brings a stark reminder that our situation is so, so unique. A reminder that the amount of stillbirths because of a cord accident that happen per year in comparison to all live births are .00067% I know that there are also many life experiences that "I can't even imagine" what someone is walking through: divorce, betrayal, cancer, infertility, loss of a spouse or parent, the list can go on and on. And I too, as someone who's in the business of coming alongside those who are hurting, have thought and said "I can't even imagine."
But instead of "not imagining," let's imagine. Let's do the work of walking in someone shoes because it is where we gain understanding of the pain and suffering someone is walking through in their life. This is the work of empathy that Jesus did for us:
"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin."
As I was talking with a pastor/counselor friend this past week, this comparison hit me about what Maria and I were going through. Imagine if you got engaged to the man of your dreams. He had been pursuing you for years, you finally started dating after denying his multiple attempts to take you on a date and after awhile, you knew you were going to spend the rest of your life with him. The wedding planning begins and he is in every detail with you. For 9 months, he has gone to every food tasting and venue walk through. He has sat next to you to pick the color and font of the Save the Dates, Bridal Shower and Wedding Invites. He shared your joy in opening every blender and coffee pot, towel and washcloth, at multiple wedding showers, never leaving your side. He invested into every pre-marital counseling session, did his homework and came prepared to share what he needs to work on in his life as he prepares to be your husband forever. The last week before the wedding, he had a special note and gift delivered to you everyday just to let you know how much he loves you. And on the wedding day, he sees you walking down the aisle, tears well up in his eyes. He shakes your dad's hand, grabs your hands and looks intently into your eyes as you two pretend to hear what the pastor is saying, just wishing he would speed things up so you can say "I Do."
But then, when it's time for the vows, he looks at you and doesn't say "I Do," but "I Can't." He goes on, "I love you but there is someone better out there for you. Just trust me, you know I'm good, you know I love you, you know I have what is best for your life." And in front of all of your family and friends, he walks back down the aisle, out the church door, gets in his car and drives away.
I think what makes this loss especially hard for us is how we have feel completely blindsided after everything we have gone through leading up to this day; and so many of you were along for the journey with us. There were many family and friends who had been praying for Maria's physical healing for over 5 years so that we could get to a place of even trying to have kids again. Then after the miscarriage last fall, there were many more praying for our recovery and praying we could still possibly have a child despite our spirits being crushed and broken. Then when we found out we were pregnant, an army of people stepped up to pray for Sophie on our behalf, that she would be healthy and strong, be the answer to God's prayers. But on our "wedding day," God walked back down the aisle and took Sophie with Him, leaving all of us in the church wondering what just happened.
In those moments, the bride does not need someone to come up to her and say "I can't even imagine." The bride doesn't need a "his ways are higher than ours." The bride doesn't need a "he is good, he is loving, don't you remember his proposal, how he cared about the details of the wedding planning, how he wrote a note everyday this past week?"
The bride needs what Job's friends gave to him when he lost everything in a day- "When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was." - Job 2:11-13
Job, the bride, Maria and I, and you, whenever an unspeakable, unfathomable tragedy hits, need people who will empathize, who will sit with you in the darkest of those earliest days and weeks, mourn with you, be mad at God with you, take on your grief, not try to explain it all away, or defend God but just be present with you. As Propaganda said in his famous Life in 6 Words Spoken Word about explaining God, "(It's like) defending a lion, homie, It don’t need your help, just unlock the cage." God can handle it all, questions, grief, doubts and tears included.
It's the act of imagining, though scary and heart-wrenching, that can create empathy in you and breathe hope and life into those who are suffering. There has been and will be times to point out God's truth and goodness and love. There has been and will be times in which we are reminded to lean into our refuge and strength in times of need. But let's "imagine" together first. Let's sit in the rubble of our broken dreams and lives without having to mention that we are still sitting on the firm foundation we have in Jesus.
This post is not about complaining or calling people out; in fact, I'm thankful that we've had those in our lives who have and continue to sit with us, who share in our suffering. Ultimately, this post has brought greater clarity to me as to how I can better do this in the future and I hope you can join me in "imagining" on behalf of others in your life.