Becoming Human

This is a guest post by Kevin Light that really moved me.

I followed him as he walked away from the crowd to the bottom of the garden. He stood there with his face in his hands, sobbing. I put my arms around his shoulders and I held on through the waves of grief that wracked his body.

“There’s only so much superficial crap you can take,” he said.

“Why do they talk like that? They’re adults, with degrees and successful careers. They drive cars. They buy houses. Why, then, must they talk such meaningless junk? Especially at a time like this.”

As we stood in silence, his question hung between us.

Eventually I replied, “They may have degrees and successful careers, Joe. They may own cars and buy houses. They may look and act adult. But perhaps they talk in this meaningless, superficial way, especially at a time like this, because they are not as skilled at being human as they are at those other things.”

Joe’s very small child had died in his arms just a few days before as he desperately tried to resuscitate her.

Now family and friends had gathered for the funeral. Well-meaning people had come in love to bring comfort and consolation. Some brought flowers, others brought food, most brought cards. It was brave of them to come because it was a very tough place to be: so much brokenness and no way to fix it.

But that is where the clumsiness lay – some of the people tried to fix it, to make it less sore.

“You’re young and can have more children. God gave you this because you can cope with it. She was an old soul and was just here for a while until her job here was done etc. etc.”

These may be common responses, but Joe’s right, they are superficial and meaningless. Try them on for size the next time your life breaks, and let us all know how that works out for you!

The bottom line is that if we are going to become skillful at being human we need to develop more than degrees and careers, and acquire more than money, cars and houses.

If we are to become human we will need to learn how to sit with pain without trying to fix it, or go around it, or smooth it over. And that will be difficult, sometimes impossibly difficult, but it will refine us, and define us, and give us lives of courage and integrity. It will give us gravity and significance as human beings.

As Alan Paton said, “All who are mature, whether young or old, accept suffering as inseparable from life. I cannot even conceive that life could have any meaning without suffering. There would certainly be no music, no theatre, no literature, no art.

If you want to give somebody a lighter spirit when they are in pain, you will need to have the courage to sit with them when there is nothing to say, and say nothing. To get that right you will need to first enter the place of your own brokenness and sit there too.

“When the heart
Is cracked or broken
Do not clutch it
Let the wound lie open
Let the wind
From the good old sea blow in
To bathe the wound with salt
And let it sting.
Let a stray dog lick it
Let a bird lean in the hole and sing
A simple song like a tiny bell
And let it ring.” – Michael Leunig

21 Replies to “Becoming Human”

  1. That last paragraph really hits home, it’s just so true! So many times people think that by continuously talking about something that they are helping. Sometimes, when we are down, what we need most is someone to just sit there with us. We often need to examine what is happening in our own lives before trying to “fix” what’s going on in someone else’s life. Often times, this is what gets us in trouble…we try to fix, rather than listen.


  2. In “Eat, Pray, Love” there is a chapter where the author talks about meditating in an ashram in India. It was hot, muggy and tons of bugs were out. Trying to meditate out there was miserable to say the least. For weeks she struggled with this and kept going inside then one day she asked herself why she was always running away from discomfort? Discomfort is what makes us grow. It’s like pruning back bushes; you have to cut out the dead stuff for the new stuff to grow.

    That chapter always stuck with me. I’m glad to read this tonight (my time). Your guest writer as done a wonderful job. Thank you 🙂


  3. Hi Tom, I’m a huge fan of your blog site. Thanks for sharing deep and honest thoughts about the realities of life. Oftentimes, I can’t find words to express some things, but you were able to think of the words and you described and narrated them so perfectly.


    1. also I am a fan of your most thoughtfulness! thank you for sharing this, am i ever glad you continue to show how wordpress can work, for a treefrog i guess im not doing too bad, considering I caught this guest post nice and fresh. Trying to learn how to successfully have a presence online and your efforts are a wonderful model to study. anytime you like to chat, nice addition by Kevin Light.


  4. this reminds me of the story of Job. suffering really does have a way of digging our hearts deep, and the amazing thing is that God uses those times to draw us closer to Him. love your posts!


  5. I have brought in food and have said all of the wrong things when my heart was breaking for the grief-pain my friend was suffering. I have also felt the anguish of grief myself, and have thought what the grieving man said in the post–why do they persist in dumping this meaningless drivel on my breaking heart? One of the hundreds of things that is great about living to be old is that I now realize that both reactions are part of being very human. This was a very thought provoking post. Thank you.


  6. Being truly present for another person usually means periods of silence. We are almost always uncomfortable with the silence–that’s why the TV, radio, cell and ear buds go with us everywhere. In that silence we confront the pain and miracle of miracles, we pass through it. It really does help to have the ministry of presence–the presence of a friend, an angel, God–at those raw times.

    I liked your poem selection too!

    Thanks for giving me something meaningful to think about today!


  7. Thanks for sharing this Tom, a great reminder. Often we want to say something or do something to ease the pain of our loved ones, when it might be better just to keep our mouths shut and feel their pain with them. As it says in Romans 12:15: …mourn with those who mourn.
    I’m really enjoying your posts Tom and looking forward to more.



  8. This weekend I am dealing with the one year anniversary of the death of my mother. I don’t care that she was 75 years old and not in the greatest of health. I still miss her, and it still hurts. I get it. Great post.


  9. Go into the Place of Your Pain

    You have to live through your pain gradually and thus deprive it of its power over you. Yes, you must go into the place of your pain, but only when you have gained some new ground. When you enter your pain simply to experience it in its rawness, it can pull you away from where you want to go.

    What is your pain? It is the experience of not receiving what you most need. It is a place of emptiness where you feel sharply the absence of the love you most desire. To go back to that place is hard, because you are confronted there with your wounds as well as with your powerlessness to heal yourself. You are so afraid of that place that you think of it as a place of death. Your instinct for survival makes you run away and go looking for something else that can give you a sense of at-homeness, even though you know full well that it can’t be found out in the world.

    You have to begin to trust that your experience of emptiness is not the final experience, that beyond it is a place where you are being held in love.

    From: The Inner Voice of Love –


  10. I am quiet and thinking how beautiful and meaningful Kevin’s post is , and how quietness is beautiful as well.
    Thank you for sharing, and I’m so glad my path crossed yours~~~


  11. My heart is broken open and I cannot find any meaning in life to carry on… and you won’t believe how irritating it is to hear all these from well meaning people. The last para really summed it up for me. Thank you for understanding what Joe is going through.


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