“I know how you feel”: Lessons about community from an 8-year old
I help teach the 1st–4th graders in my church once a month, and this last time, my experience with a couple 2nd graders was all at once therapeutic and enlightening.
We were learning about the “sticky situations” we get into and how God is with us through those times. He’s stickier than our sticky situation. I had two very sweet boys at my table and after we had written down six sticky situations in our lives, we went around and talked about them to each other. The way it worked was after a person would share, you take a sticker that says “God sticks with me!” and place it on their sticky situations.
Well, it was my turn, so I shared about some of the ways I was stressed out that week. During that time, I felt that they were present with me. They didn’t check out. They didn’t turn the conversation back to themselves. They just sat and listened. When I was finished, one of the boys said—and I’m not kidding—“Hmm, I know how you feel.” He’s eight years old.
“Here,” he said to the other boy, “you put your sticker on the bottom three problems, and I’ll put my sticker on the top three problems. Then we can cover them all.”
I almost cried while an overwhelming thought washed over me: This is what community is supposed to be like.
From this story, I noticed three elements of community that are easy to miss in our relationships:
Engage “During that time, I felt that they were present with me. They didn’t check out. They didn’t turn the conversation back to themselves. They just sat and listened.” This is perhaps the greatest gift you can give someone these days. Your attention is getting more and more precious, and to give it fully to someone—no smartphone checking, no fidgeting, no half-watching TV and half-listening to them—is a great gift, indeed.
Empathize “Hmm, I know how you feel.” He didn’t give me advice on what I should do to fix my problem or get over my feelings, he just said, “I know how you feel,” and left it at that. The words “I know” represent his experiential understanding of my feelings. It’s different from “That must feel…” The first makes you feel known, the second makes you feel like a stranger.
Encourage “Here,” he said to the other boy, “you put your sticker on the bottom three problems, and I’ll put my sticker on the top three problems. Then we can cover them all.” Often in community—Christian community, especially—we try to give our own wise encouragement in hopes to lift the other up. But these two boys encouraged me by pointing me to God and who he is in relation to the problems I expressed.
I hope we can all learn from this and apply what these two boys showed me to our relationships that are so in need of people who are engaged, empathetic, and encouraging.