Up to this point in the series, everything I have discussed has been cerebral and internal. Now it is time to finally get our physical selves involved. If you missed any previous posts in this series you can find them HERE.
In May 2007 when a little blue plus sign showed up on my pregnancy test, we were in the midst of loading up our large suitcases for our annual Uganda trip. Well, I thought, this is going to be interesting. And it was...interesting.
That summer we spent 7 weeks in Africa, all of them falling within my first trimester. Every woman experiences pregnancy differently, but the common complaints for the first few weeks are nausea, exhaustion and loss of appetite. I had all of them. Compound this with the fact that I was staying in a house with 40+ other people, sharing a single bathroom with over a dozen other girls and occupying a room located directly across from the kitchen.
No, it wasn't ideal. It was loud, crowded and stinky. Each morning I was awakened at 6 am by the prayer meeting in the common room which shared a wall with ours and the smell of frying eggs wafting through the screen above our door. I would curl up into a queasy ball, yank the covers over my head and think about anything other than throwing up.
Was it difficult? You bet! Would I do it any differently if given the choice today? No way.
Why? Because through this physically challenging, exhausting ordeal the Lord gave me one of the most powerful "walk a mile" experiences in my life.
Ever hear that expression "You'll never really understand someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes?" Harper Lee wrote in To Kill a Mockingbird, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." The idea of seeing things from another's point of view has been what I have been trying to encourage in the past two installments. Now I want us to climb into others skin and walk around in it.
Until you have experienced something, it is impossible to fully grasp it. So while we can make good and worthwhile attempts, nothing compares to the power of firsthand experience. Connecting our own situations with those of others is awesome. Being able to say you have walked a mile in someone else's shoes is even better!
The reality is, though, that we are never going to have the opportunity to walk a mile in everyone's shoes. It is just impossible. Many of us will never lose a child, fight in war, be raped, or live in a cardboard box. How do we cultivate a deeply understanding compassion for those who have if we have not tasted it ourselves?
The thing about the expression "walked a mile" is that it does not suggest you must walk the entire journey, but only a mile. Just a taste. Just a brief portion helps spur you onward and supply you with a richer compassion.
During my pregnant days in Uganda the process of eating made me feel ill. If I didn't eat, though, I felt worse. I went unsatisfied for weeks. I choked down just enough to survive. I can still hear Phiona urging me to eat "one more bite" of pumpkin as we sat in the restaurant at Fuelex. It was torture. I was miserable when I ate. I was miserable when I didn't eat.
My life was consumed with thoughts of food. I became increasingly despondent while simultaneously more irritable. I was distracted...empty...worthless.
One afternoon-I snapped. We had returned home to the smell of tilapia frying in the kitchen for dinner. Once in our room I sank into Scott's arms and wept. "I'm so hungry....I'm so hungry." Over and over again I repeated the phrase until my tears choked me up. I had never known true hunger. Yes, I had felt hungry before, but I had never known the torment of chronically never being full...never satisfied. The physical and psychological ache had encoiled me until I felt owned by it.
And once my tears of pain and self pity had dried on my cheeks, something very sweet and life changing dawned on me: This is what the hungry live with...every day...every month...every year. And unlike you, Jamie Laslo, they are not suffering because they are pregnant or do not desire the food before them, but because there is no food before them. They have limited access. Limited options. This is why you see children digging through burning garbage heaps at dusk searching for their dinner. Their humanity is being robbed by the ache inside, the mental and emotional tax of always being hungry. Have you learned?
I had always considered myself a compassionate person toward the hungry. But now when I think about someone being hungry, I feel an intense, personal pain. I tasted a very small bite of hunger and found it's bitterness unbearable. My heart is now consumed with ache for those to whom it is served day after day after day.
This was my gift. Yes, a gift. These gifts are delivered to saints every day as the God of all comfort trains us to comfort others (2 Cor 1:2-4)
I know a dear Christian sister who several months ago was plunged into a deep and unexpected depression. She was always a bright and cheerful woman. The experience blind sighted her. But what I found most remarkable as she very bravely and honestly shared her troubles with friends was the way she expressed that she had a new found compassion and understanding for those who regularly struggle with depression.
She walked a mile. It was probably one of the biggest hurdles she ever faced in her spiritual journey. The Lord has since lead her through the darkest part of the valley, and I am convinced that if you asked her today, she would tell you she is the better for the path she was called to walk. She learned a new empathy for those who suffer in hovering shadow of depression. She understands now what she could not have fully understood without experiencing it herself. Her capacity for compassion expanded.
Maybe these experiences sound a tad dramatic. They are. They are extremes. Life changing opportunities to grow. But the thing that is so thrilling about walk a mile experiences, is that they don't always have to be big or dramatic. In fact, it is possible to have one...more than one...each and every day. In both small and large experiences, in the day to day of our lives, we are able to take adversity and transform it into a learning opportunity.
I really want you to see how very practical and easily applicable this is to do so here are some recent examples from my own life:
As I am home alone this month, taking care of my house and daughter while my husband is out of the country. I am tempted to feel blue and pitiful. But I am working hard to use this time to learn to walk a mile in the shoes of single parents and spouses of soldiers who live this way for long periods of time.
When the transmission in our van died earlier this year and we were forced to use one car, I felt inconvenienced. But I determined to walk a mile in the shoes of families who cannot afford the luxury of two vehicles.
Last month when I was sick for two straight weeks and living life at 50% I was learning to walk a mile in the shoes of those who suffer from chronic ailments that keep them feeling weak.
When I was picking strawberries at a local farm last week my back ached as I hunched over the strawberry mounds. I turned my mind to the migrant farmers and field laborers who spend day after day tediously laboring picking fruit. I used my time to walk a mile.
Trials and difficult circumstances, from the most exotic to mundane afford us a richness of opportunity to cultivate compassion in our lives. What a revolutionary way to live-instead of seeing the negative we are able to see positive...an opportunity to become trained in compassion.
So let me encourage you. The next time you are suffering whether big or small. The next time you lose power in a thunderstorm, go a sleepless night with a sick child, have to eat a meal you dislike or lose something you value try to think the following:
"Thank you, Lord, for a chance to walk a mile, for a chance to increase my capacity for compassion."
It takes practice. It takes determination and perseverance. But I promise, it breeds so much joy in the heart.