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Demanding Other's Sympathy

Have you ever told someone about a difficulty or fear or frustration that you were having, and the person's reaction was anything but sympathetic? Maybe they told you that your problem is nothing compared to theirs, or maybe they tried to make you look on the brighter side, or perhaps they played devil's advocate (I'm often guilty of this). Maybe they told you some cold hard truth and maybe they were right, but it didn't make you feel any better. Perhaps you felt like you weren't being seen or like that person was acting self-centered or unkind.

I think that sympathy or understanding is like love or respect. It is what we owe one another, but we cannot demand it from each other. I think this for two reasons. One, it rarely seems to work if we do; and two, I think only God has the right to demand right feelings from people. 

First, people don't receive love or respect by demanding it. Sure, we can demand those under our authority to behave in a certain way, but we can't ask them to feel a certain way. If we do, we won't get real love or respect or understanding at all but some kind of fake display of emotion given out of fear of being punished or fired or un-friended. Real respect, love, and understanding is either earned by the receiver or freely given by the giver.

Second, only God can require that we feel a certain way because he alone knows how we ought to feel, and he alone can weigh the meaning behind our passions. What we might think is a lack of emotion in someone may actually be shyness. What we see as uncaring may be fear. What we think is dramatic may be a cry for help. 

There's nothing wrong with making a request for understanding, "I'm having a really hard time. Do you think you could please listen and validate what I'm feeling?" But it would be silly to grow angry or hurt if they couldn't or didn't. Maybe their own hurt makes listening too difficult for them. Maybe they feel our anger is an attack on them. Maybe they are afraid of emotions. Maybe they really just can't handle life right now, much less our issues.

There's one last major reason why it's not a good idea to demand that others understand us. And that is because only God can really be with us in our pain, anger, and fear. It is one thing for someone to hold us while we cry; it is another thing for the Holy Spirit to infuse our hearts with peace and comfort and courage and love. People aren't equipped to do that sort of thing . . . well, most people aren't. The Lord can touch us through his saints, but, again, we can't demand other people be saints to us. It's best to look to God for these cures to our heart.

When we go to each other expecting the relief that only God gives, we're like rabies-infected patients looking for a cure among the wild animals. Only the doctor has the cure for us. (Although, I read that there's no cure for rabies. Let's pretend there is for the sake of the analogy.) Only God can give us that cure. Only God can give us the understanding that we're seeking. Only God can give us love and dignity and the comfort that we've been aching for from the day we were born.


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