In the last month, I have had no less than four friends announce that they are pregnant. This may appear to have nothing to do with my title, but the announcements mirror the old adage, “I had no shoes and complained, until I met a man who had no feet.” I think everyone alternately plays the man with no shoes and the man with no feet. In this case, I know that my friends feel like the man with no shoes complaining to the man with no feet, which has led to some interesting conversational tap dances and some really good discussions.
I actually think this proverb can be a little bit damaging, especially to someone who is in serious pain or dealing with something life unexpectedly threw at them. The fact that someone else may have been dealt a worse hand does not diminish the difficulty of the hand you’re playing; it can only offer perspective and maybe a small amount of comfort that your situation could be worse. The real danger for me in always thinking that what I’m going through is small in comparison to other tragedies is that line of thinking allows me to avoid dealing with the pain. Or it allows me to berate myself for feeling the pain at all, which is far worse than avoidance. For my pregnant friends, it put a wedge into a few friendships that had to be pushed out.
One of the sweet people who recently announced their pregnancy told me she was worried about me finding out and that she felt like it was unfair that it wasn’t me expecting a baby. This friend has a wonderful son, and she and her husband very much wanted another wonderful child. But she’s been feeling guilty about the frustration that desire was presenting because she compared it to the frustration of my situation. This is a sweet and selfless person beating herself up over one of the deepest desires of her heart because I don’t have a baby yet, while she is expecting her second. The truth is, I couldn’t be happier for her, or for any of my expecting friends, and I hate that my issues may have caused anyone else consternation. I especially want this particular friend to enjoy every moment of her pregnancy (so that I can live a little vicariously) because she really is the sweetest, cutest person you could ever meet, and nothing beats a sweet and cute pregnant person.
I have certainly not reacted that way to every pregnancy or birth announcement; certainly, it has something to do with my relationship with the herald, but it has much more to do with my head space at the time of the announcement. I would be lying if I didn’t say I have been jealous and even angry at hearing some of the news – why should this person get to have another child while I lose pregnancy after pregnancy? I think a huge piece of the proverb is missing, or maybe it’s a choose-your-own-adventure proverb. What about the man with no feet? Did he complain? Did he constantly compare his fate with others and belittle the man with no shoes?
It can certainly be tempting to call attention to your problems when you are in the footless position in an effort to gain moral superiority: there is some small sense of superiority in enduring the losses that provides a perverse ego boost, rather than the strength and confidence and peace of quietly relying on Christ. Comparing battle wounds is counterproductive anyway. If we are all standing around discussing the depths of our injuries, no one is actually dressing the wounds, leaving all of us open to infection and death. Souls are fragile things, and we ought to be caring for each other instead of comparing scars. We ought to never allow someone to feel small for seeking care over a “small” wound to their soul; even paper cuts can cause life-threatening infections.
I am not at all saying that we shouldn’t seek help and sympathy or talk about our problems because we’re too busy taking care of other people. On the contrary, we need to talk to people we can trust to bind up our wounds if we want them to heal properly. Often, there is no one better to talk to than someone who has experienced the same kind of injury, but we’re afraid to seem like we’re complaining. There is a huge difference between complaining and expressing real pain: one leads to more complaining and bitterness and the other brings about relief and consolation. Trust me, I can whine and complain with the best (maybe worst is more accurate?). In fact, I have been whining like a champ all week. But I am learning to be less afraid to seek help when I’m hurting. I am learning to avoid hurling complaints at someone else just because I’m hurting.
Of course I have scars and a limp from my wounds, but it kills me that I could miss the opportunity to help someone because they think their pain isn’t as bad as mine. I cried when I read a comment from someone who said that their two miscarriages weren’t so bad when compared to our (at that point) five. A child lost is a child lost, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve lost one or ten, you’re still hurting regardless of the number. Or maybe you’re having a hard time conceiving – you’re still in pain. I promise everyone who reads this (or anyone, period) that I will listen if you need to talk when you are in pain. That promise comes with the single caveat that if you are merely complaining rather than trying to work through it, I will probably call you on it, provided that you do the same for me. Why can’t the man with no shoes and the man with no feet be friends who help each other limp along?