The tie that binds

When you’ve been through something difficult, it can help to have a friend who gets where you’re coming from. That’s why one of my friends, who has struggled with an eating disorder, likes talking with fellow teens in the eating disorder community.

“I relate to them better than I do my other friends,” she told me. “Because they actually understand my pain, and I understand theirs.”

It isn’t the shared experience of pain that’s allowed me to feel comforted and to find healing.

Helping and being helped. It’s a natural foundation for a friendship. But is pain really the tie that binds us together? And do we need to have experienced pain or trauma in order to effectively understand, support, and help others?

Most people would probably say “yes”—that at best, encouragement from someone who hasn’t experienced something difficult can feel well-meaning but empty, and at worst, completely infuriating.

But here’s something I’ve found interesting. In my own life, it hasn’t been the shared experience of pain that’s allowed me to feel comforted, to move forward, and to find healing. Those who’ve helped me the most have had the spiritual vision to see beyond the struggle. In other words, instead of seeing pain as part of my identity, they’ve had the grace to witness something profound: that as God’s daughter, I am actually untouched, purely spiritual, and therefore whole. Right now. This is true for everyone. And it’s what heals scars and permanently releases us from pain.

Having the spiritual perception to see someone as whole and free, even in the face of what appears to be suffering, doesn’t mean pretending that everything’s fine when it’s not. Christ Jesus’ life, as well as Mary Baker Eddy’s, definitely make that clear. Both Jesus and Mrs. Eddy were highly attuned to the needs of those around them and left behind amazing healing records—including freedom from all kinds of crippling physical and emotional issues. This was their way of “acknowledging” pain: They healed it. They related to those who were struggling by connecting, not on the basis of the struggle, but on the basis of their certainty of the power of divine Love.

Suffering wasn’t unfamiliar to Jesus or to Mrs. Eddy. But while both faced their own trials, there was no way they could have experienced the entire spectrum of challenges that those they encountered were dealing with. What they both had experienced was the reality of God. They had felt God’s goodness in such a deep and unshakable way that they had a natural conviction that only this goodness could be true for everyone else, too. Their compassion led them to hear the cry for help, and their spirituality led them to lift the person above the cry—into healing.

God has given us the spiritual clarity to care for one another from the basis of how fully loved we are.

Maybe that seems like a lot to ask in our own relationships. A lot for us to take on. But God has already given each of us the spiritual clarity to care for one another from the basis of how fully and divinely loved we all are, not from the basis of how much or what kind of pain we seem to have experienced. This takes our healing practice beyond the narrow boundaries of the trials we’ve been through and allows us to listen more perceptively, minister more tenderly, and more effectively help anyone who crosses our path. In fact, what starting with the true, spiritual nature of God’s children actually does is to break us out of the dream of mortality. And that’s when our ability to connect with others, and to heal, really takes off.

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