One of my favourite songs by The Innocence Mission stands out to me because of its line, “Nobody knows how they are loved.” A character in the song is surprised by how many people came to his birthday celebration. “Nobody knows, darling. Nobody knows how they are loved.”
I struggled for a long time with feeling like a burden to people, mainly if I needed to ask for help or wanted to spend time with someone. Over the last couple years, I’ve gotten a lot better at asking for help and seeing the beauty of a community that gives and receives, rather than feeling burdensome or guilty for receiving.
However, I had a moment recently when I realized I have another step to go in this area. I wasn’t spending Thanksgiving with family this year, so I texted a friend to ask if I could celebrate Thanksgiving with her family. That didn’t work for them, but my friend’s thoughtful response included telling me, “We are thankful for you.” I was pleased and surprised to read that.
Maybe I was surprised partly because I haven’t heard that particular wording often. I also remember it feeling unexpected and meaningful when a university professor told my class she was proud of us. I had people say kind and encouraging things to me before, but that particular phrase, “I’m proud of you,” wasn’t as familiar. I think “We are thankful for you” had some of that specialness.
I also think that while I don’t feel as much like a burden anymore, I sometimes still feel neutral- not a negative burden but not a valued addition to someone’s life. Why is that? In a lot of ways, I have good self confidence. I like my personality and character. I’m proud of what I contribute to the people and communities around me and of all the skills I have. When I stop to think about it, I do have a lot to offer as a friend or as someone who becomes like family.
So why do I feel surprised when someone says they’re thankful for me? Why do I still have these doubts about being a good thing, a benefit to someone’s life instead of being filled with confidence in the love of God for me and the love that people share with me too (even though people’s love isn’t perfect and people make mistakes)?
I think a lot of people experience that in this broken world. And tragically, not everyone experiences the same kind of love and support in their families and communities. But even when we do have people who really love us and are thankful for us, it’s easy for self-doubt to come up or to underestimate how people feel about us. The Innocence Mission got me thinking about this. Nobody knows how they are loved.