I’m convinced that in each relationship we share, there is a piece of that person’s life that we’re missing.
A key. A missing tidbit of information. A puzzle piece that (if fitted into place) would cause us to back up and say, “Ohhh, well that finally makes sense!”
I have a dear friend I’ve admired for many years. She and I became close when our children were just babies. Jennifer* had two perfect little ones who were truly beautiful; a daughter and a son.
Her son, an extremely bright and curious boy, had a vocabulary that exceeded any child his age. We often roared with laughter as she told stories of encounters with strangers in the grocery store; his latest climbing adventure or other “learning experiences.”
Jennifer definitely had her hands full! But she carried on with the grace and optimism of young motherhood.
Joshua’s precocious ways unnerved a lot of people. And when he came to play with my girls I certainly had to stay on my toes. But his loving and compassionate nature always took center stage, to me.
Just before Joshua turned five, we started to realize that some of his behavior had no explanation. The stories changed from light-hearted to startling. Jennifer began to express genuine concern for Josh’s safety – he seemed to have no fear at all.
Jennifer’s husband worked as a public servant. His job left them open to all sorts of suggestions and criticism regarding Joshua. To the casual observer, Josh looked like any other rambunctious little boy. So the input ranged from practical to absurd:
- “Isn’t there a pill they can give him?”
- “I think a good old fashioned spanking is in order!”
- “Have you checked for food allergies?”
- “If you would just get that kid on a better schedule….”
People seldom gave any thought to the heart of the young mother they so freely scrutinized. I cried with Jennifer over some of the more ruthless comments.
During one of those times she said, “It seems like it would be so much easier if he had a physical handicap. That way, at least people would try to muster some sympathy!”
At long last, Joshua was diagnosed with a form of Autism. And the truth became painfully clear – without Divine intervention, Joshua would continue to struggle and people would most likely never understand.
I watched my precious friend become his champion.
If tests were needed and the insurance company refused, she spent countless hours helping them change their corporate mind.
She wrestled with the school system until he successfully graduated high school.
Jennifer sought out job opportunities that would help her son experience the joy of being gainfully employed.
She helped provide community service hours; letting him follow in Dad’s footsteps.
She refused to allow people to label Joshua. And she prayed like Hannah!
When I see Jennifer in other settings now, I know the pain that resides deep in the heart of this polished, confident woman. I know of the darker puzzle pieces God has fitted into the portrait of her life: disappointment, sorrow, grief, questions without answers.
And I marvel at her.
I often think back on her pondering from long ago, “Wouldn’t it be easier if he had a physical handicap that people could see?”
And I wonder how many people around me are, right now, struggling with issues I know nothing of.
Hearts, broken beyond healing, continue to beat. But they doubt joy will ever come again.
The wife of someone in a public role (like Jennifer) who wants to simply crawl into a hole and wait for the storm to end. But she can’t! Obligations and commitments make no allowance for hidden pain. So she smiles and soldiers on as best she can.
The obnoxious teen-ager who dresses so ridiculously. He’s grappling with life questions that would overwhelm an adult. But he dares not say anything to anyone!
The sullen student who never has her work done. She couldn’t return a report card if her life depended on it. But every evening in her upscale home is one more night of terror.
What kind of compassion would we lavish on these if only we had the missing piece of the puzzle? If only we knew!
The ironic thing is this: we seldom ever have that information. God calls us to offer grace and compassion to others without knowing the whole story.
Only He has the vantage point of seeing the entire picture.
My prayer? “Lord, help me blindly extend the kind of lavish love to others that I would gladly give if I knew their story.”
I keep a puzzle piece in my desk as a reminder of this prayer.
Please, feel free to adopt that visual aid too, dear reader. Truth is, we can all afford to be a little more understanding!
Amen. Amen to that!