One of my most cherished possessions is my maternal grandmother’s Bible. Not only because it is a tangible symbol of her faith, and my mother’s – the Bible was a Christmas gift from my mom in 1943 – but also because it is filled with handwritten notes chronicling the history of my grandmother’s side of the family.
The original entries – the presentation page and my grandparents’ marriage record – were penned in my mother’s looping, elegant script. Later, things got added by others. Regardless of who wrote what, grandma always went back and slipped in additional details here and there: baptism dates and officiants; locations; ages, relationships; birth order, who was in attendance at various family events, and more.
There is a wealth of information in that Bible, but it isn’t recorded in linear fashion. If you want to know the whole story of my grandmother’s family you have to hopscotch from page to page, entry to entry, and read between the lines.
The same is true for each of us as well. We human creatures are both breath of Heaven and dust of the earth; a cumulative expression of the generations who have gone before us, further shaped and impacted by our own lived experience. The events of our lives spiral through the days and years, not always moving forward in straight, ordered lines. In order to understand the whole story of our lives, all of the things that make us us – not just bits and pieces here and there, not just the “good stuff” or what others deem important – we have to mine the depths of all those experiences, to look for what’s etched between the lines of the narrative of our life.
It takes patience, diligence, and time, just like digging through all the extra details my grandmother added to the pages of her Bible. It takes discernment to sort out what’s important to hang onto and what we need to let go. It takes trust to continue to move forward, knowing that as finite, earthbound human creatures we see “through a glass, dimly” and will never have all the answers this side of eternity.
It’s complicated. But it is so, so important. Because even though we were each created as unique, one-of-a-kind individuals – “we’re all unicorns!” as my friend Jen says – we humans were also created for connection.
The more we know and understand about what makes us who we are, the better able we are to engage with others in ways that are genuine; compassionate; understanding; authentic; whole. If we don’t understand ourselves – if we haven’t been able to figure out what makes us tick – we’ll be hard-pressed to understand anyone else; one of the things our world needs more than anything these days is understanding.
To some, introspection of this sort may smack of self-centeredness. It isn’t. Think of it as the relational equivalent of putting on our own oxygen mask before attempting to assist others.
Even though I titled this post “Between the Lines”, the word I’ve been coming back to all week is “compassion”. One of the ways I conceptualize and understand it is as “making room for”. If you have compassion for someone, you want to welcome, embrace, and include them. Without compassion, it’s easy to ignore, wall out, turn away.
I doubt she named it that way, but that’s what my grandmother was doing with her Bible. She didn’t want to leave anyone – or any details – out; she welcomed, embraced, and included everything she could about everyone.
It’s what we’re called to as well – for ourselves, and for one another.
How much of the whole story of your life do you know?
Are there gaps in the narrative? Places where you may need to look between the lines to see what else is there?
Where do you most need compassion today?
And to whom might you most need to show compassion?