I Understand


“I understand.”

Two words that should be used with extreme caution. Because the truth of the matter is, sometimes we just can’t understand. Unfortunately, there are things in this world that we will never understand.

Webster’s dictionary defines understand as “to be thoroughly familiar with; to apprehend clearly the character, nature or subtleties of…”

This past Tuesday I took Gideon to a research facility to have his vision examined. I was not surprised when the girl administering the test could not get him to look at the first card. I explained to her that we had received a diagnosis of PBD since our last visit and with that, she went to get the Optometrist on staff. So a very young doctor came in and after doing some testing with light, she determined that Gideon was legally blind as opposed to totally blind (apparently he has light perception…meaning he turned his head towards the light where it was being shown).

Even though I was not surprised by this, hearing it out loud sent me into a moment of tears. So she gave me that look and with a tone of confidence, she said those two words that boil my blood… “I understand.” At that point, my emotional despair quickly turned into anger and frustration. I took a deep breath, gave her the benefit of the doubt and sweetly questioned, “Do you have children?” After she replied no, I took a page from my friend Holly’s book and said, “Hmmm.”

I was thinking about taking the opportunity to educated her about inappropriate responses to another’s tragedy, but I thought my words might come across as harsh. So I chose to be quiet. After all, I do not know her whole story any more than she knows all of mine.

And then it happened again.

I had just given her a little more detail about my son’s diagnosis and in the middle of my tearful explanation she said, “It’s okay, I understand.” 

And with that, I asked her (very sweetly I might add), “Do you know someone who is blind and deaf? Do you have other patients with this terminal disorder?” To which she replied, “No….. but my grandmother was blind.” At this point I was too angry to educate. Since the appointment was basically over, I asked her if there was anything else she needed to do. As she shook her head no, I gathered my kids and left.

I wanted to share this story for a few reasons. First of all, everyone’s life experience is different and it’s so hard to know what to say in the midst of someone’s brokenness. Obviously, I do NOT have the market cornered on despair, but I have learned some things that are appropriate when someone shares their heartache and I would like to share them with you all now…

1. Silence is okay and often times needed. I have very much come to appreciate my friends who can just be with me with no words spoken. But if you MUST say something, go with your feelings for them. A friend once told me, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but my heart hurts for you and I’m here to walk beside you.” That statement meant so much.

2. Listen more than you share. It’s so important to wait to share your experience with tragedy. While your experience may be relevant, it’s always a good idea to wait for an invitation to tell your story. What you have to share may truly be on par with someone else’s hurt, but in the moment of someone’s tears and brokenness, your story may not bring as much comfort as you think.

3. “I understand” is not the best thing to say. Truthfully we can never understand what someone else is experiencing unless we’ve been through something similar; and even if we’ve been through something similar, our lives are so unique that we still cannot understand another’s life experience. Only Jesus can do that.

4. **Stay away from clichés– “Everything happens for a reason” and “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” etc….those words are not comforting in moments of grief. I will be the first to testify that God works everything for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28) and His grace is sufficient for our trials (2 Corinthians 12:9). Yet, clichés like the ones mentioned above,  have never made a grieving person feel better about their situation. I haven’t heard of anyone who wrote “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” on a note card to reference/lift their spirits throughout the day. On the other hand, scriptures (like the two mentioned above) is always worth re-reading in moments of despair.

I am in no way upset with that sweet girl who said she understood. In fact, there may have been more to her story that she could not share with me for professional reasons. Honestly, had I dove in with my feelings, I would have said some things I might regret and my words would have fallen on deaf ears. In that moment I decided to extend some grace…after all, Christ does that for me. (Romans 5:8).

This past Tuesday reminded me that loving others even when their words hurt, is hard. Nevertheless, I do not believe for one second that people intentionally extend hurtful words to those who are grieving. Honestly, it’s just down right difficult to know what to say when someone is in the depths of despair. And that’s okay.

I learned through my counseling classes saying, “I understand” does more damage than good; and after this past Tuesday, I know first hand how much it hurts. It took me some time, but I have finally realized that the only person who truly understands our hurts, our grief and our despair…is Jesus.


**On a side note, if you have ever said any kind of cliche to me in these past few months, please know that I am not offended by them. I am very much appreciative that you took the time to encourage us and we are aware that your heart is sincere. Your love and care for us is beyond anything we could ask for, and we are so grateful for all the support that we have received, no matter what form it came in-words, actions, or silence. Thank you for loving us the best way you know how.



26 thoughts on “I Understand

  1. Oh I loved this post! Our family hasn’t had to go through any major difficult trials…yet. So I never know what someone who is or has wants to hear. I always want to comment on everyone one of your posts, but I sometimes don’t know what to say. …. (even now I’m pausing my typing trying to think of what to say…lol). Just know you are an inspiration to us and if/when the trials come, I’ll be able to remember you and see how you have used this trial to glorify God and share His word. It’s always interesting to think how God uses each situation/life experience for something in the future.
    Our lives are like puzzle pieces we’re not sure what the end picture will be, but each piece has it’s own place and fits perfectly into God’s plan. When the puzzle is finished it will look amazing and be exactly as God pictured, even if it’s not what we pictured it to look like.

    Also I wanted to mention, I would love if you would do a post on thing that are helpful to someone in the midst of a trial. How we can serve better those who are hurting. And the best way to comfort them and show them love and just be helpful to them.

    1. Thank you Jacey, you are always so encouraging to me. My biggest fear in posting this would be that people would question the things they have (or would have) said to me and just stop saying anything. I realize we are all doing the best we can to love others and even this sweet girl who told me she understood was doing what she thought was best. And it’s my hope that people would still be encouraging to those in the midst of grief even if they’re not sure what to say.

      I love your puzzle illustration. So perfectly put!! I heard a pastor once say our lives to us look like the back side of a cross stitch. All the random, messy lines that seem to go no where and make no sense…but when you turn it over and look at from God’s perspective it’s been perfectly weaved into a masterpiece!

      I appreciate your idea for a topic to write on! I’ll get started on that soon!! 🙂 God bless you my friend for always lifting my spirits!!

    1. Patricia, thanks for your honesty! I think most people dislike cliches and yet so many of us use them (or have used them). I think people just don’t know what to say, so they go with something that’s popular or something someone told them. Our culture is uncomfortable with grief, so we do what we can to sweep it under the rug quickly because we don’t know how to handle it; that’s where the cliches come in. They are usually a quick statement that leaves little room for discussion. I hope with time you’ll grow to hate the cliche and not the person saying it. I really believe people who use them do so because they truly don’t know what else to say (and sometimes there’s nothing that can be said.)

      I wrote an author who had grieved the loss of two children and in response to telling her my story and what we’d be facing, she wrote back, “I’m sad with you.” Nothing fancy, just honesty. She wrote some other things of course, but that stood out the most to me and was comforting to me. To know that someone else was willing to feel the sadness with me.

      Thanks again Patricia for being honest and sharing your thoughts!! 🙂

  2. My dear friend Sam…you made some very important points here. I totally agree with you. Very well said.

    1. Thanks Zell!! I love you!!! (And your daughter who always said “Hmmm..” if she didn’t quite agree!!)

  3. I am so touched by your honesty to share things we an all take to heart and just realize even though we are not walking in your shoes, we can learn how to love, support and be there for those we love. Too often we think trying to “relate” to one another builds immediate trust, when sometimes it’s just about listening, learning and loving. Thank you for finding a way to put your thoughts into words we can read. Xoxo

  4. I don’t understand and I never will. All I know is that you are loved unconditionally. You are always in my prayers.

  5. I too heard these two words going thru radiation and chemo and was probably quilty of saying it myself are cancer. Some just have no words and choose these. I have had to erase tesecwords from my tongue because we don’t not understand unless we have walked the same road as another. The old cliche, silence is golden, is best. Sometimes it speaks volumes.

    1. I’m with you Diane, I like the old cliche silence is golden!! Thank you for sharing your experience with cliches. You’ve been on a mighty journey yourself and I’m sure others are benefiting from your wisdom and perseverance. God bless you and yours!!

  6. Thank you for this post! As a young doctor myself, your comments will help me as I talk with patients and families. I hope that I never said any of the things mentioned in your post to you. There probably was a lot of silence the day God had us meet, because I was in tears, which I’ve never done with a patient before. Even though I do have kids, you’re correct in that I will never understand what you’re going through. Thank you for always sharing your most deepest and sincere thoughts.

    1. Kristin!! Your words and actions have always been so encouraging!! I knew you would be a special part of my life the moment you shed tears with me at our first appointment! Thank you for the continuous out pour of love for us. We are so glad you’re a part of our lives!!! 🙂

  7. Sam, thank you for putting int words what I have not been able to do. When you are going through a hurricane, not a storm, mind you, all you want is encouragement, love & support. This was not brought on by a “sin issue” in your life. I don’t think people really think before they speak. But those words are hurtful when you are down in a valley. I applaud you for sharing your heart. My prayer for you & your family is that God will carry y’all through each moment. That you feel the love, encouragement & compassion from all who aee surrounding y’all. I love you & your precious family. I’m in awe of y’all! Y’all have faced so much adversity & shown so much strength. I can see Christ shining so clearly through each one of you!

    1. Thanks Nanci! We have felt so much love, encouragement and support from everyone!! Thank you for taking the time to pray for us and lift us up with dinner and fudge (oh praise The Lord for your fudge!). We love you guys so much and cannot stress enough how thankful we are to have you in our lives. 🙂

  8. I do not understand. I work with blind and visually impaired children as a teacher/specialist. Some of my children–that’s right–MY children were deaf, blind, and/or terminal. I have no idea what it is like to be a parent in the process of grief. I do know that I take ownership in “my” children’s well being and take special strides in learning what makes them tick while it is my turn to teach and learn from my kids. I think the best thing I have learned to do is listen and be empathetic. Not sympathetic–where you feel sorrow for the child or family; empathetic–where you try to recognize and feel what they are going through. I also realize how stupid people are sometimes! Sam, it is my opinion that you and yours are doing a beautiful job. I have said this before–and I mean it with all my heart–God chose the perfect family for Gideon. My heart, prayers, and love go out to you every day!

    1. Thanks Melissa. God bless you for what you do. As a former teacher, I share your passion for educating children. As a parent, I’m so thankful that children like mine have passionate teacher that loves them. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and thanks for your encouragement. We so appreciate your prayers, love and support. God couldn’t have given us a sweeter baby boy. 🙂

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