There’s this world that you can’t see but I can.
Not the spiritual realm, that runs deeper and undergirds everything happening in the physical world. I fully believe that world exists, but you may be able to see it better than I can. Some people have that gift.
Nor am I referring to the insidious world beneath the internet, which I’m not even interested in naming by name. That one exists, too, but it’s well beyond me and all I can do is pray.
I’m referring to the world I’m privileged to see because people confide in me. When I hear other people’s Struggles and the suffering they endure just to be, I am constantly humbled. Whoever threw up that meme about “everyone has a battle?” This:
It might not be true, literally. There might be a few folks out there who really are just jerks. But I hear a lot of people’s stories, I get a glimpse of how screwed up and broken people are, and this is truer than you know. It’s truer than I know, and I know quite a few of these battles. To be clear, I’m not trying to compete here (there are plenty of places in which I am trying to compete), and you may hear even more than I do. But honestly, unless you are a professional counselor or a priest, I doubt it.*
I keep a lot of confidences. There are people reading this who might feel nervous that I’m talking about them. Relax. I would never out you. Never. I am just talking about this in broad strokes.
“Fog of war” is the uncertainty in situational awareness experienced by participants in military operations. In some video games, it’s depicted as darkness or a literal fog. That means until you’ve explored a certain region in the game, you can’t see there and you can’t refer to that spot on your map; it’s just grey mist. Even after you’ve gotten rid of it, when the enemy takes over your little village, you lose visual. Fog of war returns.
Imagine that most people are seeing one another’s lives as fog of war. You see them, their clothes, the things they do and say in public, but you have little to no idea what’s going on behind their scenes. You’ve got nothing on your map.
Some days, when I am hearing what’s going on for different people who have overlapping lives, it’s as if the fog of war has lifted for me and I can look across the map. Neither party understands the other’s motives, but I have a view of both. It’s tricky.
Sometimes I can use it for good by walking very carefully and helping certain people know, “This guy you can’t stand? He’s got some reasons for behaving that way.”
Usually the response is “I had no idea!” Of course you had no idea. Your dislike for him comes across loudly and plentifully clear. But I can’t tell you (I’m making this up) “He had his parents murdered in front of him and that’s why he acts like a spoiled billionaire playboy.” Because that would totally out him. Now if you knew that he’s actually up all night keeping thugs from beating up innocent widows…
But seriously, in my little sphere–in pretty much everywhere my little sphere has wandered since about seventh grade–I’ve always seen a world that most around me can’t see at all. It helps me to empathize and it teaches me not to make assumptions about others. I’d love to tell you it has trained me not to judge people, but that would be a lie; some sins just don’t go away by simple remedies like evidence and common sense, and the evil is pretty deep in my heart. Even so, knowing what is going on for so many people and why they might behave as they do helps me to see people more fairly. It’s probably reason #3 I’m so big on Grace.
I’m going to give you another completely fictionalized scenario. It might help.
I have two guys I’m mentoring. They can’t stand each other. They’re both popular; they’re both brilliant. They each have a great sense of humor. But they approach life very differently. One just says whatever comes to mind, is exceedingly honest and charming and laughs at himself for his follies. He’s wonderful and everyone loves him. The other plans life to the “T,” would never burst out in class, considers people’s feelings and watches out for everyone around him. He’s wonderful and everyone loves him.
But they are the proverbial oil and water to each other. One is also abused at home. The other struggles with severe, crippling anxiety. And about 3 people in the world know one of those secrets and I’m the only one who’s been told the other.
Again, that’s completely fictional but not an exaggeration of the real situations I know. Sometimes I have to drill it into my head that I can’t say anything, because wouldn’t it help so much if people could understand each other better? Like I said, once in a while I can, with serious finesse, communicate enough vague and general information to help inspire empathy. Most of the time, though, I bite holes through my tongue and thank God that the tongue heals faster than almost any other part of the body. Trust is paramount, and confidentiality means nothing if you have to wonder who is going to hear your business after you tell me.
My conclusions are simple. Please don’t be insulted if these seem obvious:
•You don’t know what you don’t know about people. If everyone’s got a battle, some are harder than yours. And some are harder for the person fighting, even if you might consider it not as severe as yours. And some, you should just thank God for his mercy that that one isn’t yours.
•Listen. Many people tell me about their darkness. I think it’s because I listen and ask real questions and try to hear them instead of fixing them. Oh, I have counsel and input. But that comes after I’ve really heard them…in some cases, a long time after.
•Empathize. The Revolution starts here. I’m not a better sinner than all the other sinners. I mean that both ways: I’m not better at sinning, nor am I a nicer guy without Jesus. My sin is just as self-destructive as yours. The competition is never to see who sins less; the only object is to grasp where I can find grace. “Which one went home justified?” Jesus asked. Not the one who appeared to sin less. (Luke 18:9-14)
God, have mercy on us and help us to remember,
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”
And don’t forget, there’s more going on than any of us can see.
*I don’t take pride in this, because it feels more like an X-power that I was born with, something God gave me because He chose to, not because I earned or merit it.