The quote at the beginning of this post is something that’s been on my mind frequently over the past year – “Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”. I’ve seen this quote in the past and thought, “sure, some people are fighting really hard battles, but there are people who really just have it easy. Maybe more people than I think are facing something hard, but not literally everyone.” However, over the past year I feel like I have gotten to know more of people’s challenges. Just out of the people I know here are some of the struggles I’ve been privvy to in the last several months – cancer, death of a loved one, infertility, feelings of inadequacy, divorce, depression, loss of faith, separation from children, illness, difficult pregnancies, rebellious children, anxiety, job loss, money problems, unfulfilled dreams, loneliness, moving from home, fear, sleep deprivation, debt, and abuse. That’s a weighty list, and for most of those trials I can name more than one person who has recently faced it. Moreover, if I think carefully through people I know well I can come up with something each one of them is facing that is difficult, and I’m sure there are many more inner struggles that I am completely unaware of.
As I’ve contemplated this the reality of the quote finally registered and I have come to realize how true it is. E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E. you meet is fighting a hard battle. Yes, that person who cut you off in traffic. Yes, your neighbor who seems to have it all together. Yes, the friend who always has a smile on their face. I don’t care how well you think you know the person or how easy you might think they have it, each person is fighting a hard battle in some aspect of their life, whether you know about it or not. This realization has reminded me of a quote from a recent talk by Dieter F. Uchtdorf –
I want to tell you something that I hope you will take in the right way: God is fully aware that you and I are not perfect.
Let me add: God is also fully aware that the people you think are perfect are not. (emphasis added)
I know there are people that seem to have things so easy, but as you get closer to them you will find there is something they are actively struggling with. Trials are an integral part of our life here on earth. They are the experiences that help us grow, and everyone is growing in one way or another. I wanted to share one of my own experiences that I think illustrates this.
Those of you who follow my husband’s blog may know that he mentioned a bout he had with depression. If you know Eric that revelation was probably something that surprised you. Eric is positive, driven and bright – not exactly a poster child for depression, and before he posted about it almost no one knew what he’d been going through. However, he was feeling undervalued in his position at work. It was demoralizing for him to have to prove and reprove his worth and to fight tooth and nail to keep his projects going every single day. Understandably it got to him, and he started to escape his frustrations by spending a lot of his time playing computer games. Just to have an arena where he could feel more successful. Gradually, he sunk further and further into depression and even when he was home I saw less and less of him. Despite my best attempts to try and help him, he withdrew into himself and I was at a loss for how I could help.
Meanwhile, even I misunderstood what he was dealing with. I underestimated his struggles at work knowing that he loved what he’d been hired to do, and thinking that balanced out his frustrations. However I was keenly aware of the changes in his behavior, though I tried to keep them between us. Not understanding the real cause I attributed his depression to the wrong things. Since what I observed was mostly him withdrawing from me I assumed I must have been the problem – that his life with me wasn’t what he’d hoped it would be and he preferred his computer as an escape from the poor choice he’d made to marry me. I felt hurt, alone, and like I had no control to make things better. I began to sink into a bit of a depression of my own. Just like I misunderstood Eric’s struggles he misunderstood mine and we were both unable to help one another.
Eventually we were both able to work through these challenges and we’re stronger now for having gone through them. But the point of that story is that here we were living in the same house, truly loving one another, and each suffering inwardly. Somehow even with the love we had for one another, we missed what the other person was going through. It amazes me that – even with the time we would spend together, as much as we would talk to one another and as much as we loved each other – we still missed the battles playing out right in front of our eyes. After that experience I’ve come to realize just how easily other people’s challenges can be hidden from view while things seem fine on the surface. Or how easily we can attribute someone’s actions to the wrong things. I’ve learned to not assume I know what another person is experiencing and try to show compassion unconditionally.
Another thing I’ve come to realize is the need for compassion for people who struggle with something that might not seem major to me. I’ve read a lot of blog posts about the things you shouldn’t complain about. You shouldn’t complain about how hard your pregnancy is because there are people struggling with infertility. You shouldn’t complain about infertility because there are people who long for marriage. You shouldn’t complain about not being married because there are people stuck in an abusive relationships. The examples I’ve seen go on and on. To this kind of thinking I want to again quote President Dieter F. Uctdorf –
When it comes to [judging others], please apply the following:
It’s that simple. We simply have to stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and His children. God is our Father. We are His children. We are all brothers and sisters. I don’t know exactly how to articulate this point of not judging others with sufficient eloquence, passion, and persuasion to make it stick. I can quote scripture, I can try to expound doctrine, and I will even quote a bumper sticker I recently saw. It was attached to the back of a car whose driver appeared to be a little rough around the edges, but the words on the sticker taught an insightful lesson. It read, “Don’t judge me because I sin [or experience trials] differently than you.”
It’s easy to look at someone else’s trials and think how much more difficult our own challenges seem to us. Of course, it could almost always be worse and we should always try to be grateful in our circumstances. But putting someone else’s difficulties down because it doesn’t seem as hard as what you’re facing is ridiculous and helps no one. I struggle with children who are not fantastic sleepers – not the biggest problem that anyone’s ever faced, but it’s one of mine. I have heard people say things like, “you should just be grateful that you have children.” They’re not wrong, and the truth is, I am grateful for my children and I don’t begrudge them the many sleepless nights. But that doesn’t negate the fact that I am tired and sometimes I need someone to just give me a hug and tell me that I’m going to make it to bedtime. Belittling my exhaustion because it could be something worse isn’t helpful.
Construing any person’s suffering as illegitimate doesn’t help people with seemingly worse trials, and it certainly doesn’t help the person in front of you. We all need to be careful not to fall into the kind of thinking that says people only deserve our sympathy if their struggles weigh in greater than our own on some cosmic scale. This is nonsense! Do you think our Savior looks down on us and says, “Well, you’re only dealing with the trials of one single person. I took on ALL the suffering of every person who has ever lived, you big baby. Go whine to someone else.”? NO! Christ took upon him all these things so that he could help us even in small things. If He doesn’t put us down for struggling with small things then we certainly have no room to put down one another. One of my favorite quotes comes from a talk given by Marvin J. Ashton back in 1992, he said,
Perhaps the greatest charity comes when we are kind to each other, when we don’t judge or categorize someone else, when we simply give each other the benefit of the doubt or remain quiet. Charity is accepting someone’s differences, weaknesses, and shortcomings; having patience with someone who has let us down; or resisting the impulse to become offended when someone doesn’t handle something the way we might have hoped. Charity is refusing to take advantage of another’s weakness and being willing to forgive someone who has hurt us. Charity is expecting the best of each other.
If we want to become like the Savior then we need to stop trying to judge other people’s actions based on what we think we know of them. We need to give each other the benefit of the doubt that their struggles are real, whether they makes sense to us or not. We need to let them manage their trials as best as they can and be there to support them in any way possible. No matter how trivial their trials might seem to us. Our judgement of their trials doesn’t matter, what matters is how we respond to them in their need.
I recently watched a beautiful example of someone who already does this. As my readers know, my dear friend Toni lost her sweet son Kayson in the middle of last year. Recently, I was sitting with her and another friend as our friend was expressing her frustration with parenting a difficult son. Toni could have snapped back, “You should just be grateful that you still have him here, don’t you know what I would give to be going through those difficulties right now instead of the one I have?” Instead I watched as she sat there and lovingly commiserated about the difficulties of parenting, offering advice and support. Our friend said something about how trivial her trial was and Toni graciously responded that it didn’t matter how big the trial was, it was what she was struggling with and that made it legitimate. Helping a friend didn’t increase her grief or do anything to belittle what she was going through. It merely gave her an opportunity to show love for a friend, and you can’t show love for someone without feeling its glow yourself. When we help lift other people’s burdens our own become lightened, not heavier.
Can we all commit to trying a little harder, to being a little kinder? Recognize that we don’t know – and can’t know – all the things that another person is dealing with. Let us find ways to lift each other up in our trials. Let us stop comparing and trying to “one up” other’s troubles. Let us be kind.