It was 4:00 in the morning when I left the hospital, and as I hit the first traffic light, the dam that had been holding back all of my fear, anger, and desperation crumbled into a million broken pieces. Tears coming from a depth beyond understanding carved slick rivers down my neck and pooled in my shirt. I was aware my car was drifting between the painted lanes of the empty interstate, and I glanced for blue lights that would assume I was drunk. My voice scraped raw as I screamed my questions to a moonlit sky, daring His promises to be kept.
Knowing my other little ones were tucked sleeping in a quiet house, and needing to do something tangible that felt productive, I pulled off into the only store open at this desperate time of morning. Despite trying to slow my heaving sobs in the parking lot, hot drips still occasionally seeped from my stinging eyes as I wandered the empty aisles. I chose a few items mindlessly, that I thought at the time would bring comfort, and I trudged my way to the lone check out stand with a flickering light. A slight embarrassment prickled over me as I became aware of the frightening sight I must be with my blotchy face and swollen eyes.
The checker grabbed my things and began swiping them across the counter without looking up. “How are you today?” he beamed. “I’m ok.” “That’s good,” he replied. He continued to ring up my things and take my payment without ever making eye contact. As I grabbed my bag and turned to leave, he swung the hammer one last time. “Have a great rest of your day!”
If you have spent much time around me, you may have noticed that often when someone asks me how I’m doing, I don’t ask the same question back. It may come across rude. It is not because I don’t care though, it is the exact opposite. I don’t ask because I either know that that person was just asking to be polite, and they don’t really want the true answer from me, or because I know that I am not at a time or place I can truly give thought and caring to their answer. I ask how someone is doing because I sincerely want to hear their heart, and not just the glossed over “I’m fine, how are you” that we all are guilty of giving sometimes. I’ve learned to pick out the people who honestly want to hear how the real me is doing, and the people who would be completely uncomfortable if you let them see beyond the surface.
When I am standing in line at the grocery, I know that there may not be the time for me to be a listening ear to someone’s bad day, but on the other hand I do not want to ignore the person in need of some encouragement. If I notice a rude or grumpy employee, I will leave them with an “I hope your day gets better.” They didn’t have to share what is weighing on their mind that day, but they will know they are seen and given validation. I will not ask you how you are doing or how your day has been unless I authentically have the heart to hear the good with the bad. I’m ok with you taking the time to tell me what you are struggling with, and will not make you feel ashamed for not finding the good in a new day of life. The truth is that life is hard, and we should stop conditioning each other to put on a brave face and pretend everything is fine.
I challenge you to stop your robotic motion and your scripted lines, and look up. There is a world out there of hurting people. People who in the sticky messes of their daily lives may not need you to spend an hour listening to their problems, but need to know that they are not invisible, that their pain is not ignored, and that we are all in this together.