The other day, my husband told me that he made someone cry. He was ordering some trailers for our new business and was requesting them to be painted orange in honor of Boston, since it was his favorite color. Mike told him about The Accident and why the color orange. Mike told me, “He was a sobbing mess. He was really crying hard on the phone.”

“Did he say, ‘I can’t imagine’?” I asked.

“Yes”, Mike replied.

I said, “I hate that.”

I had been thinking about the statement after our chat and I had started writing a post on it, but lost it all. So, here I am starting again. Explaining why I have a hard time with that statement.

But first I feel like I also have to preface that I have said this same statement many many times in my life. I’ve heard it in movies, TV shows, read it in books, even Mike and I were talking the other day about how we all say it when we hear something that is unimaginable-something that hasn’t happened to us yet.

There are a lot of things in this world that we can’t imagine. I can’t imagine my husband cheating on me and our marriage falling apart, but we have friends in that situation.  I can’t imagine my children being in the hospital on a regular basis or fighting a chronic illness, but we have friends in that situation. I can’t imagine living in a place of constant war, but we all see and hear it on the news all the time. We see images and we read words which can paint a story for us, but we can’t imagine actually experiencing the experience. We watched the documentary on The White Helmets on Netflix and shook our heads and the devastation unable to imagine, even after watching the whole thing.

I went to Croatia when I was in college to teach English. We stayed in a town called Slavonski Brod and the Sava (a river) divided Croatia and Bosnia. I was there four years after the Bosnian War. I walked through bombed out churches in Serbia. Walked in neighborhoods that had been wrecked by war. Talked with students about how they hunkered in the basement waiting for the air strikes to end. They talked about losing family members and shared other stories of suffering and living through hell. I ended up driving down through Bosnia to get to the Croatian coast, and we went through Sarajevo and saw even more remnants of war. I drove past the old Kosevo Stadium where they held the Olympic ceremonies that was eerily still standing. Even after seeing all of the devastation and hearing people’s stories, I could not imagine, simply because I had not lived through the experience.

Through our own experiences each time I have heard someone say, “I can’t imagine what you’ve been through.” I’ve wanted to offer a snarky response of, “Yeah, neither can I.” We have lived through the unimaginable, so have many other people. People all over the world have lived through the unimaginable. Tragedy. Abuse. War. Divorce. Homelessness. Empty stomachs. Diseases. And the list goes on.

When our response to a friend in suffering is, “I can’t imagine.” We are saying to them, “Better you than myself.” We’re closing that door to any possible conversation. We aren’t even trying to empathize, because there are no words to respond.

The only One who can imagine is the One who took all of the unimaginable of this world upon Himself. He’s the only One who can truly imagine the pain. The tragedy. The abuse. The suffering. The empty bellies. The abandonment. The devastation of war.

Jesus took all of that unimaginable to the cross. He experienced all of the unimaginable of the world from the beginning of time to the end and He bore it. He bore it, so that we don’t have to.

Surely he has borne our griefs

and carried our sorrows;

yet we esteemed him stricken,

smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions;

he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that

brought us peace,

and with his stripes we are healed.

All we are sheep have gone astray;

we have turned-everyone-to his

own way;

and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:4-6

Jesus suffered the most. More than anyone on earth. More than the grieving parents, the children with cancer, the abused spouse and the war torn family. But he has also conquered the unimaginable with his blood, because he conquered death, therein lies our hope in the unimaginable.

The next time we encounter something that we can’t imagine, we must listen, love and be reminded that our Lord has experienced the unimaginable, so he knows exactly what to say.


This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Mary

    As always Michelle, your words are beautifully written, enlightening and give us a glimpse of your own heart while also bringing comfort to others who live with a broken heart.
    I rarely disagree with anything that you write about, however, this time I do disagree that in saying “I can’t imagine” that we are really saying “better you than myself.”
    I too have made this comment, and my meaning is that having never gone through
    that particular situation I would not be so presumptuous in thinking that I know just how you feel or even relate to this situation, nor am I closing the door for further conversation.
    Personally when I have had a rough experience, (there have been plenty) I appreciate the fact that a person may not identify with that particular thing and I pray to God that they never have to. Yet, I can still feel the love and compassion coming from that person and at certain times have even been able to open up to them In order to have that support that I needed, or listening ear and know that they are seriously taking my needs and hurt before the throne room of God, as do I when I have made that comment to someone.
    I do 100% agree that that the only One who can truly imagine is Jesus!
    I am so very grateful that He was willing to take ALL of my unimaginables
    to the cross!
    I love you Michelle and I really appreciate all of your blogs.
    You are such a blessing to so many people in your willingness to
    Be open and honest and letting your love for our Saviour shine through every aspect of your life. You are a valuable treasure! XO

  2. Douglas Curving

    Nice write-up… pause to think about a phrase that your right… ‘tritely used’

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You Can’t Imagine