Sign up for Meridian’s Free Newsletter, please CLICK HERE
The train was crowded and many had to stand. I gripped a metal post to steady myself, and glanced at unfamiliar faces. This was in Norway last month, part of a Scandinavian trip I took to see my daughter’s mission area. Her fluency with the language astounded me, and I watched her converse easily in Sweden and Denmark as well.
But I was virtually illiterate. I stared at the upcoming train stops in these countries and managed to guess wrong every single time about how they would be pronounced. However, as I studied the other passengers, I felt a connection. I could see concern in some of their eyes, and wondered what burdens they carried. One grandmother eagerly shared treats with her visiting grandchildren, something she had probably planned for weeks. Some young parents were trying to soothe crying babies who sounded exactly the way my own had sounded years ago.
Whether they know it or not, every one of these people is a child of God, every one chose to come to earth. Every one knew there would be challenges and even anguish, yet here we are, making our way. And I remembered that we are all just fellow travelers who are much more alike than different. Every one of us will experience loneliness, disappointment, fear, frustration, loss, and heartbreak. Such is the mortality of man.
Hard as these trials can be, they refine us. In October Conference of 2013, President Thomas S. Monson told us that even though we sometimes feel we are tested to our limits, these tests allow us to change and rebuild, become “better than what we were, more understanding… more empathetic…”
And that empathy bonds us. Difficulties force us to connect with one another to receive—or offer—help. Burdens are not meant to be swallowed and ignored, or dealt with in solitude. We have been told to “mourn with those who mourn,” to reach out and love as the Savior did. He never told people to seclude themselves or turn away, but to connect with caring hearts. We are meant to have, and be, neighbors.
Language barriers are actually porous, not solid, and we penetrate those walls with shared emotion. Sometimes a sympathetic glance connects more than any words could accomplish. Just knowing we are not alone can bring enormous comfort. When it’s welcome, a hand squeeze or a hug can allow someone’s heart to soften, even a friendship to begin.
I recently sat with a good friend and shared tears about a sorrow we both share. Sometimes just crying together is an important step in healing. You don’t always have to solve every problem; sometimes it’s enough just to listen and be heard. When we see that others have survived our ordeals it gives us renewed hope and strength.
And these important connections need to transcend differences in faith and circumstances. Whether someone shares our religion, our language, or our culture is not part of Christ’s directive. We are simply to love and serve everyone around us. A friend of mine joined a widow’s support group and not only found the empathy she was seeking, but lasting friendships with women she would never have met otherwise. Two shopkeepers who might have become competitors chose instead to help one another, and a lifelong relationship developed which ultimately included both families as one.
Look at the interesting phenomenon of match making. In every culture, people expend great energy fixing others up. We hear a new bachelor has moved to the area and immediately try to think whom he could meet. We find a student with an interest in philosophy and suddenly remember somebody with a degree in that field and say, “Oh, you should talk with so and so.” Whether conscious of it or not, we all have the urge to connect our fellowmen to others, making sure no one is lonesome.
Psychologists tell us being social is a key to good mental health and even a longer life. When we cut ourselves off, we are going contrary to God’s plan for us. Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs includes Belongingness and Love, right after the indispensable food, water, and safety needs.
But a sense of togetherness is more than just emotionally healthy. I think there’s something sacred about sharing grief—our own or another’s. Consider this powerful statement by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: “For me, bearing another’s burden is a simple but powerful definition of the Atonement of Christ. When we seek to lift the burden of another, we are ‘saviors on mount Zion.’ We are symbolically aligning ourselves with the Redeemer of the world and His Atonement. We are ‘bind[ing] up the brokenhearted, … proclaim[ing] liberty to the captives, and … opening … the prison to them that are bound’ (Isaiah 61:1).”
The most important connection we make, of course, is to Him who truly understands every aspect of our suffering. Grief brings us closer to the Savior as we rely upon his atoning power to bring us comfort and understanding. But, as Elder Holland says, we can also help one another in the healing process. And every sorrow we shoulder makes us stronger and more able to do that.
]Yes, we cry, we ache, we also rejoice no matter the tongue we speak. And when we share our deepest feelings with others, language is often unnecessary.
Hilton’s LDS novel, Golden, is available in paperback and on Kindle. All her books and YouTubeMom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.