My daughter threw her backpack into the car and sighed as she collapsed into the front seat. As she emphatically clicked her seatbelt into place, she explained that they had to run SOOOO much in soccer and that her big toe was killing her.
I casually dismissed her toe pain, suggesting that maybe she had miskicked a ball and that it would probably feel better the next day.
The next day after school she limped towards me and said, “Mom. My big toe still really hurts. It’s throbbing and really hurts to walk.”
I resisted the temptation to roll my eyes and throw her a bandaid and asked her some questions about the pain. She reminded me that she and her friend had gotten pedicures that weekend and she thought the woman had cut her toe a little bit.
My casual demeanor quickly fled and I immediately began to picture a horrendous infection oozing from my daughter’s toe. With a new urgency, I asked her to remove her shoe and sock. As I searched for the dreaded red lines up her toes and feet, I glanced across the room for my car keys in case I needed to rush her to the hospital.
To my relief, her toe didn’t even look that red, but I still suggested that we slather lots of medicine on it, just in case. Somehow that made us both feel better. As I stood to return to the busyness of the day, I glanced at her other foot, still wearing her shoe.
I knelt to touch her foot. “Wait a minute. Where exactly is your toe in this shoe?” I pressed the top of her shoe, only to find that her big toe was shoved so tightly against the edge of her shoe I could almost hear it screaming to get out.
I looked up and asked, “Are your shoes too small?”
She shrugged and said, “No, not really. I think they’re fine.”
I suggested that we go to the shoe store after school in case she had outgrown her shoes. We rushed to the wonderful Charm City Run after practice where a woman happily led us to the shoes.
I asked if she could check McKenzie’s shoe size as I wondered if her shoes might be a little small.
She measured McKenzie’s feet and announced that she was a size 6.5, but would probably need a 7.5 in running shoes.
Wide eyed, McKenzie looked at me and we both nervously giggled. I grabbed McKenzie’s old shoes to check the size and sheepishly asked the sales person, “Can you repeat that?”
I looked at McKenzie’s shoe which taunted me with, “4.5”
Three sizes smaller than what this woman was recommending.
No wonder her big toe was hurting.
We finally found a pair of Nikes McKenzie liked and I watched as she walked back and forth in the store, joyfully bouncing as she walked. How in the world had McKenzie been running around in shoes that were three sizes too small?
The next day, after a long day at school, I asked her if her foot felt better in her new shoes. “Oh my gosh, yes. It is so comfortable to walk.”
The toe still has some healing to do. As the days passed, we noticed where the irritation began, but now that her toe has more room, the healing process has begun.
Of course all of this made me think about the difference a little space can make in our pain.
Not only is it a really busy time of year, but I sense that a lot of people I care about feel like life is wrapped so tightly around their hearts that they can’t breathe.
When there is no room to breathe, there is no room to heal.
We might be aware of how much pain we are in, but we have no idea what to do about it.
It isn’t until we make space for our hearts and our pain that we can really find healing.
The temptation is to just grab the metaphorical box of bandaids and just deal with the pain, hoping it will eventually go away.
Until it doesn’t.
More than our own pain though, I am struck by the fact that what McKenzie needed the most from me was to reach down and help her to figure out that her shoes were too small. She had gotten so used to running around in those tiny shoes and had no idea what a difference the right size can make.
It is easy to look at someone and say, “How are you?” or “I am praying for you” and run along to the next thing on our schedule, but for me, the difference comes when someone not only asks how I am doing, but stays with that question long enough to really find out.
What a difference it makes to ask the second and third question – the ones that dig a little deeper. The questions that make us pause and say, “Hmmmm. That’s a good question. I hadn’t really thought about that.”
We can’t really become good question askers unless we become good listeners. Not necessarily offering a solution or a bandaid or telling all the ways we have experienced something similar, but simply to listen. To ask the questions that allow someone to find some space in his or her pain. (a great book on listening is The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction by Adam McHugh. Chapters six and seven are especially helpful!)
We live totally connected 24-7, reading article after article, hearing this opinion and that, carrying the weight of life all day long. It can be like wearing shoes that are too small. The tight space only complicates the pain and doesn’t help us to heal.
What if we all made more room?
What does space look like for you?
Advent is here.
What can we do to make more room as we prepare for Christmas?
Is there anyone who you can help to find that space? Ask God to show you who really might need you to ask them those extra questions.
You would be surprised the difference it can make for someone to just sit and listen.