One of our most valuable resources is our reservoir of experiences. We all have a wealth of information from a variety of situations that can prove worthwhile for ourselves as well as for the people around us. Our own personal experiences are what create compassion, support and empathy. We are naturally more emotionally invested in situations that are similar to our own. Be these circumstances positive or painful, they stand out because we can identify with them.
For instance, my ministry is primarily with women who are wives and mothers. This is what I know and where my passion lies. The classes I teach encourage others to eat and to live well within their means and to live from the abundance they have already been given while honoring their true priorities. I encourage people to be hospitable, to honor their marriage vows, to invest the most important things into their children, to live simply but fully and to spend time doing what is most significant for eternity. I have a much higher impact teaching these things than I would teaching a career woman how to climb the ladder of success, because corporate success is a ladder I have not climbed.
I believe that every person has the opportunity and responsibility to encourage the people around them based on their own personal experiences. The problem is that many of us have had really painful experiences. We have suffered divorce, disease, job loss, addiction, death of a loved one, a rebellious child and other devastating situations. These things hurt so deeply, and some of them never resolve into the happily ever after we’d hoped for. And, sometimes we have to swallow a significant amount of pride in order to make the best use of our experiences. I recently spoke to a woman who was thirty years on the other side of divorce. She had been happily re-married for more than 20 years, and she had one daughter from the second marriage who was getting ready to walk down the aisle. The woman’s life was good–full and fulfilled
She said to me, “I will always regret that I did not stick it out in my first marriage. It is especially poignant now that my daughter is planning her own wedding. What kind of a role model will I be to her in those early years? How can I encourage her to stick it out through all of the rough spots when I threw in the towel four years in to my own marriage? It’s especially difficult for me to talk about this with her, because, if I hadn’t thrown in that towel, I wouldn’t have her.”
There was so much emotion in this precious woman’s face. I understood what she meant. God has called me to share some of my most heart-wrenching mistakes to minister to other people before. It is a humbling place to be. I sometimes argue with God when I feel like He’s wanting me to share the uglier chapters of my life. Over and over again, though, I hear Him say, “Trista, I will waste nothing if you will let Me use it”.
The other day, I heard about a young mom who was caught on camera making a stupid mothering decision. By the grace of God, nothing horrible happened…but it could have. This young woman was photographed without her knowledge, and her poor choice was made public. I’ve thought about that young mom a lot. What she did was careless and completely irresponsible. There are no good excuses for her choice, and I thank God that there was no tragedy that occurred in light of her decision. As I looked at the woman in the photo, though, I see something of myself when I was a young mom with little bitty children. I was not prepared for the commitment of motherhood. I made poor choices on more than one occasion, and I am very glad no one was around to take my picture. I remember tying my dog’s leash to my nine-month-old’s stroller while I walked over to pick up something out of the yard. Even though my dog was told to stay, she didn’t. A squirrel popped out of a tree, and my dog darted after it. The stroller ended up on its side, and my sweet daughter was screaming and scared to death. I all but kicked the poor dog, taking my frustrations out on her. I kind of hang my head just remembering these few minutes of motherhood. It was careless and irresponsible, and it could have ended very badly. But, it didn’t and I never did it again.
Every day, we have the opportunity to come alongside someone and to encourage them from our own experiences. Our words and actions can breathe light and life into a dark and weary spirit or they can snuff out part of a person’s flame. I’m not saying that we should lay bare all of the ugly parts of our pasts or ignore things that endanger children. What I am saying is that steps taken in kindness and with understanding often carry much greater weight and have a more lasting effect.
God will waste nothing if you let Him use it.
Challenge: Look for an opportunity to offer empathy today.