“In the path of your judgements, O LORD, we wait for you; your name and remembrance are the desire of our soul.” (Isaiah 26:8, ESV)
I wonder how many people are longing to talk to someone – but can’t find the right opportunity.
Sometimes that might be to do with a major trauma – but not always. I have a friend who pretty much always seems to be going ok. Self-contained, intelligent, fun to be around. They seem happy with their own company or with others. They rarely complain. So – I mentioned that I thought they’d been overlooked in a certain setting – and they cried. There hadn’t been any clue in their behaviour that they minded, but as soon as someone noticed, it was like oxygen to them.
Neither, might I add, was there any bitterness or resentment in their tears. It was just a relief to be noticed – it was validating.
Other times… God only knows how many people are carrying pain, from major trauma, that they haven’t found a safe way to talk about. There is research about such things, but God knows them by name. I try to keep in mind that any person I talk to could be carrying something. If they do something I don’t like… well, I try to remember that I don’t know what they are managing on the inside. I try to. Perhaps if I knew, I would feel very differently about them and their behaviour. Perhaps I will never have the right to know, it being, none of my business unless they choose to tell me. So I see a need for some delicacy, respect, and gentleness in all our relationships.
Perhaps I should add: none of that removes the need for boundaries or expectations. Even as a parent, do I actually know for certain how my children are experiencing life? And what they carry? I try to notice things, and create space for them to talk, but I’m not them. So when there is, again, a need for boundaries or expectations, I hope I do what is needed with a good measure of respect for my ignorance, and for their worth.
I love this description of Jesus: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.” It was used after he broke the law by healing someone on the Sabbath. It, also, comes from Isaiah, who speaks of the pain and hope of the Israelites.
God cares about those who are broken, and we are called to do the same. So – that person who is annoying you, or who maybe evokes even stronger feelings – do you know what burdens they are carrying? I believe, to be honest, the only authentic answer is “no”. How can we know for sure? In some cases – many cases – it could well be safer for them to not have those burdens out in the open. So all we can do is find a highest common denominator for the way we treat people.
A complexity of course is that this person who may be carrying a burden that would horrify us might just also be harming others. My point is not to never challenge others or draw lines. Just to have respect, and mercy.
The quote I started with comes from a time when the Israelites were in pain, in a world that was hostile. Despite their own failings, they longed for God to ‘turn up’. It’s not crystal clear whether they felt they were already experiencing God’s judgement (their current suffering), or were longing for it to come. I believe the second, although in either case I think we see the longing of a people who know they, themselves, aren’t perfect, but yearn for God to come and express his character.
The book of Isaiah covers decades of suffering, and again, near the end, we find this:
“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
and cause the nations to quake before you!
For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” (Isaiah 64:1-4)
I believe it’s the longing of a people who felt known by God – that he wasn’t at all blind to their failures, but that he saw deeper, and loved what he saw. With their warts and all, they wanted him to come.
If only we could earn a portion of that kind of trust from those we relate to each day. Well, perhaps we can.