A few years ago, I was cleaning up my room after a Bible class when a gentleman who was new to the congregation came in. I am still not sure why he chose my classroom, unless it was the only one occupied, and he was looking for an ear. I am always happy to be an ear. I have done it many, many times. I am not sure I have always helped, but sometimes being the ear is all the help needed, and it's one of the easiest ways to serve another.
This was not a particularly young man, not many years younger than I, in fact. But he began in earnest to tell me about his mother dying the year before. I expressed sympathy, and that encouraged him to continue on. He had been in the room with her when she died. He was practically crying by then. "You just don't have any idea how traumatic it is to watch your mother die."
I continued making the appropriate comments as sincerely as I could, and finally his tears dried and he left me. What I did not say to him was, "Yes, I do know what it's like—my father died just six months ago and I watched him take his last breath." It would not have helped anything, in my judgment, and I soon found out I was probably right.
We were sitting at a potluck meal not a month later, right across from this same man. He began to talk about an incident in the service when, as a guard, he had to hold his weapon on another man. "You have no idea what it's like to think you might have to make the decision to shoot someone," a sentiment that was made at least twice as he reran the story again and again in the next ten minutes.
Neither Keith nor I mentioned that, as a law enforcement officer, he had to make that decision more than once, and that he finally had to act on it the day he was ambushed by a convicted felon who was under his supervision.
Here is the thing, people: you have no idea what some people have been through in their lives, unless you have known them intimately from birth. Most mature people do not go around talking about the traumatic times in their lives unless they are trying to help someone else. Most of the time they are happy to put that part of their lives behind them and dwell on happier times. Be careful what you think they have or have not gone through, and therefore, what they can and cannot relate to. In my younger years I learned several hard lessons exactly this way. Everyone has experienced hardship and trauma, and over the years they have learned to deal with it. My experience may not be exactly like yours, but I bet our lists look similar.
Perhaps I am wrong, but, "You just don't know what it's like" seems to serve two purposes. First, it garners attention. Suddenly, you are the one everyone feels sorry for and comforts. Everyone gathers around you and for at least a few minutes, you are the only one who matters. Second, it gives you an instant excuse for whatever misbehavior you have done. People will instantly overlook it because of what you have been through, "poor thing."
But I will tell you that "what you have been through" is the most invalid excuse there is for sin. You have someone who has been through exactly what you have. He most certainly does know what it's like. In fact, he came here for precisely that reason. He changed who and what he was just so he would know what you have been through. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Heb 4:15). We have a tendency to focus on the cross when we consider his sacrifice, but here is every bit as painful another one, and he suffered this one every day of his life. Any time we use the "you just don't know" excuse out of an immature desire for attention or to cover our faults, we are belittling the sacrifice he made in the most arrogant, self-centered way possible.
No one gets off easy in this life, not even God's children. To expect otherwise is to deny the curses of Eden. It's supposed to be hard because we blew it. The only way you can say otherwise is to claim to be sinless. You don't get Heaven until this World is over and done with. You may get a taste of it here and there in a good marriage, great kids, and loyal brethren, but then again, you may not.
But we all have the best help imaginable. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you... (2Cor 12:9). "Sufficient"—enough for any need you may have.
None of us has reason to say, "You just don't understand" to Him.
Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Heb 2:17-18)