I have heard this spoken to me and I have voiced this same idea to others... but is it true?
I have a friend who at this very moment sits and waits for her son to come out of surgery. He is having his 4th open heart surgery today. Without the surgery he will likely die, but this surgery is complicated and he might not make it through the procedure itself. Do I understand what she is going through? Yes and no.
I have sat in her chair and said goodbye to my own son as he let go of my hand to walk into an OR with a nurse... I have watched those door close and then melted into tears. I have stumbled back to family and friends who were sitting and waiting to comfort me and wait... I have spent countless hours in prayer both before, during, and after surgeries- never quite sure how it will all work out. I have watched surgeons walk toward me and scanned their faces to try to decide before they speak if it will be good news or if their words will alter my life. I have sat by the bedside of my son while he winces in pain held together by staples and tape. I have heard the beep, beep, beep of the monitors ping for what feels like eternity.
Even though I have sat where she sits right now, I do not understand what she is going through. Her sons condition if far worse than my sons. She has sat in that chair more times than I, and each time not been sure if she would hold him again. No, I do not understand.
My mom sits in her chair 2,000 miles away from me, not sure if her condition will cause her to loose her ability to walk and take care of herself for the rest of her life. She sits in between specialist appointments, waiting with every tick of the clock whether the other shoe will fall and create an intolerable living condition. Do I understand what she's going through? Yes and no. I have had one "bad" mammogram in my life that left a gap between detecting and knowing that I was OK that was too hard to bear. I listened to the tick-tock of the clock as I imagined all the bad things that could happen, all the things I would miss if it was the "worst case". I have watched people walk right on by completely unaffected by my life's challenges... Whether I waited for my son to recover or waited for a diagnosis, they danced on by. Some would stop and sit a while, but eventually life goes on right... I do not understand what my mom is going through, because her condition is far more rare than my questionable mammogram was. There are few doctors who can offer answers for her, and fewer still who would actually dare to help... No, I do Not understand.
Why do we say those words to others? Our lives are so different and our circumstances impossible to compare. What is easy for you to walk through may be a death blow to me.... SO why do we say it?
I think we say it in an attempt to ease our own inability to do anything about the trial. We can't fix it, so we try to relate to it. We compare the struggles of others to something that we ourselves were tormented through and even feel empowered to say, "I understand..."
The truth is we do not understand, but there is a truth that I hold onto.
This truth is what empowers me to pray and encourage others who are suffering...
When our son was in surgery for the 3rd time, a friend handed me a Bible verse written on the tear-off cardboard top of a tissue box. There in pen was 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Later when I looked up the verse I read
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God."
Do you see what I see? It doesn't matter necessarily that we understand one another's troubles per se. What matters is that we look for and hold on to the fact that God comforts us in trouble. After our own trial, when someone close to us is in trouble we can say, I may not understand exactly what you are going through, but I do know the Lord will walk you through your trouble the way He walked me through mine. If He cared enough to comfort me, He will certainly care enough to comfort you...
To my mom who waits, I would say the Lord is waiting with you. He has never let me down, so I am confident He will not let you down either. I may not understand or be able to help you in anyway; but He can.
To my friend who sits in the waiting room... The Lord loves your son more than anyone. He can be trusted with the trial of surgery and recovery better than anyone else. People may say they understand... They don't... But the Lord does... He understands the anguish of your heart and the faithful tears that flow as you await His will...
For me... I will be forever aware of the words "I understand". Truly I do not... Thank the Lord in heaven that I do Not need to understand, I simply need to trust and be available to comfort those who fall into ANY trial. It will be different from mine, But the Lord who lead me through will be the same Lord that leads them through...