You Are Not That Special

I did a Google search for “things you should never say” and there were over 36 million results. Here are some of my favorites:

  • 10 Things You Should Never Say to a Nun
  • 10 Things You Should Never Say to a Canadian
  • 300 Things You Should Never Say to a Woman (300!)
  • 16 Things You Should Never Say to a Great Dane’s Face (can I say it to their tail?)

The blogs that I usually read are the ones that apply to my life like: “10 Things Never to Say to Families with Adopted Children.” They are usually humorous and true. They reveal different ways that we offend people without knowing it. And I think, when done well, they can help people to empathize with their neighbors. However, I think that there is a danger with these types of messages: it can make us believe that we are special. These blogs can encourage the belief that we are so different that no one else can even imagine what it is like to be us.

Solomon revealed a helpful truth to keep in mind when reading these blogs:

“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

As a missionary and adoptive parent, I can find myself believing that other people will never understand me. No doubt my friends that daily struggle with raising an autistic child (and the glares and under-the-breath comments from passersby) believe that I will never understand them. Every individual experiences life differently, with unique challenges, and unique temptations. And yet, it is in that very fact that we have unity. Why? Because none of it is really new.

You (probably) do not know what it is like to be white, raising four black kids, in Cameroon. But you kind of do. Whether it is because of a handicapped child, an unfortunately placed birthmark, or even just having all girls and no boys, you know what it is like to be looked at as weird. You know what it is like to be misunderstood by others, even if they speak your mother tongue. And you know what it is like when people say stupid things to you that indicate that they just do not get it. No matter how I feel, my struggles are not uncommon. These are the same things people have been struggling with since Genesis 3. My temptation to respond in anger and frustration with these encounters is not new either. It is normal.

I believe that these types of blogs can tempt us to be distracted from the actual purpose for our trials. Paul writes in II Corinthians 1:3-4:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

Paul says that the reason that he was afflicted was not so that he could set himself apart from other Christians, but so that he could relate to them. He was afflicted and comforted by God, so that he could comfort others who are in affliction. And I do not believe that this means that he was there to comfort those with the exact same afflictions as Paul. Was anyone afflicted in exactly the same way as Paul? Was anyone else shipwrecked, stoned, and abandoned by all of their co-workers and friends? Probably not. But he could comfort someone who was persecuted, or abandoned, because he went through that, even if the circumstances were different.

The truth is, we are all different, but that difference makes us all the same. If you were to search through all of the 36 million blog results on Google, you would find many that apply to you. This is because, in our different ways, we all experience the same things. There is nothing new under the sun. And though we are tempted to believe that our unique sufferings and frustrations make us indecipherable to others, it is those sufferings that makes us so easy to understand. But if we allow our trials to direct our gaze inward, we miss the point. Our trials are divinely designed as a tool to serve others.

I am writing this blog at a time when it seems like American differences are growing more and more irreconcilable. We are told that, because of racism, whites can never understand the black experience. We are told that this division is too profound for unity. I reject this. Racism exists, and it hurts, and it is frustrating. But God is still sovereign. And I believe with my whole heart that God allows racism for the purpose of unity. That is not the only purpose, I am sure. But have you ever considered that when you faced the trial of racism, it was so that you could comfort other Christians? And not just black Christians.

As a white man living in Africa, I know what it is like to never be anonymous. I know what it is like to wish that people would get to know me before they judged my character. I know what it is like to ALWAYS be stopped by the police because of the color of my skin. Are these experiences exactly the same as my black American brothers? No, of course not. But God has given me these experiences so that I can better relate to, and comfort my black American brothers. I have a black friend whose son was stopped by the police while walking through his own suburban neighborhood because he looked “suspicious.” This happened, in part, so that he could help me know how to talk to my boys about the assumptions they will face when we are back in the States. And so, when the day comes that something like this happens to us, he can comfort us with the comfort that he received. The very sin that the world wants to use to divide us, brings us closer. But it will only bring us closer if we stop making it about us, and start seeking the good of others.

Let us not allow funny internet memes or angry protests to convince us that we are too special to relate to others. Let us instead seek God’s comfort in affliction so that we too can comfort those that struggle so very much like we do.

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Author: David M. Hare

Dave is currently still engaged in language learning and analysis of the Kwakúm language. His focus is grammar and discourse analysis. The Kwakúm language committee is planning to begin translating the Bible in the summer of 2019. At that point Dave will focus on translation.

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