Several years ago, water was dripping on the outside of our house from the eaves onto the driveway. I wasn’t sure if the situation was, in fact, problematic, and so, being a responsible homeowner, I ignored it. But one day, a woman driving down the alley stopped and rolled down her window. She said she’d had a similar situation at her house and that I needed to call a plumber soon to fix it before it became much worse. I thanked her and then contacted the plumber. I appreciated her willingness to help me out and the way in which she approached me. When she told me that she’d been in the same boat at one time, she gained my attention and I listened. She wasn’t merely doling out unsolicited advice about what I should do. She was speaking from a shared experience.
At church last Sunday, a friend and I had a long conversation about children. She is ahead of me on the motherhood journey, which is good, because as it turned out, I needed to discuss the teenage years with someone who’d already been through this stage. We talked about navigating the ups and downs of parenting independent minded children and how hard it is to strike the balance between guiding them and allowing them to chart their own course. She agreed that parenting high school and college aged children could be difficult and conveyed some of her experiences. I felt seen and heard when she assured me it was hard but survivable. And because I know that her children are awesome adults, I felt a greater sense of confidence and hope. I appreciated her willingness to be open and share her knowledge with me.
Often, we pretend that life is perfect and portray an image that doesn’t reflect reality. In so doing, we may become more isolated and feel that we are the only ones who’ve ever gone through the specific difficulties. When we find others whom we trust that faced similar experiences, we help ourselves if we are vulnerable and ask them for advice. Perhaps some of our reluctance to ask how another person made it through stems from our fear that they will scold us or tell us we are doing things wrong or that we are somehow less than because we need guidance. But most of the time, we will find a common bond of understanding that only deepens when we ask for support from someone who has been through similar circumstances.
The Apostle Paul wrote that we, as members of the body of Christ, should “encourage one another and build each other up.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11. When we let our guards down, either in asking for help or sharing our history with others going through a tough time, we cultivate relationships that not only build one another up but build the kingdom of God on earth. God wants us to live in community and in relationship with one another. The time and effort we invest in each other is valuable and in keeping with God’s hopes for us.
Sometimes we throw out the phrase “been there, done that” as almost a joke. But maybe that’s exactly what someone else needs to hear so they don’t feel alone. Let us encourage each other by sharing our stories because when we do, we help ourselves and others and serve God at the same time.