By the time we are adolescents (if not before), we start to hear or use the words: “No one understands me”. Today’s teens, however, might be more apt to say: “No one gets me”. These statements follow us into adulthood and can often be heard in disagreements between husbands and wives. In each case it is used, it suggests feeling as if we are understood is quite important to us.
As I reflect on that, I am aware that it is most often said at a point of utter frustration after we believe we have communicated something that matters to us so well without a response that it can only mean the person does not understand. The words we use along with the statement might also include: “No one’s listening to me”.
The results seem predictable. When we reach the point where the statement or statements get used, we or the other person give up on further communication and a shut down occurs so the relationship reaches an impasse. For many of us, not to feel understood means not to be cared for or loved.
Sometimes we use the words because we want to get something from someone that we believe has been denied. Sometimes we use the statement when we are too lazy or too wounded to even try to communicate what is going on inside of us or what we want. As a result, we use the words to lash out at the other person and erect a wall of self-protection. Of course, the wall doesn’t help us achieve what we desire and adds a greater sense of isolation than before we built it.
We are a paradox. We want someone to understand us, actually understand us completely, and yet, we keep parts of ourselves hidden on purpose out of fear and a desire to self-protect. There are also parts of us that we don’t even recognize that stand out clearly to those who are closest to us.
Relationships are costly. They require us to set aside our selfishness, our demandingness, our poor listening habits, and learn the hard lesson of what godly loving requires. To want understanding is common, but to pay the price by being real and working to know others and ourselves better is not so common.
Perhaps some of this originates from who we were in the beginning, in Eden. In that place, we once had a sense of what it felt like to be fully known, fully understood, and fully loved before we fell. Perhaps the words we throw out in our frustration represent a longing for Eden.
At issue is that we expect and desire to receive from others what we cannot give to them. We want to be loved in spite of being known completely with all our flaws, our failures, our bad habits, and idios. We forget this kind of acceptance, understanding, and love does not reside in our hearts unless or until our spirit has been infused with the Lord’s spirit and He rules our hearts, our words, and our choices.
John Piper says it well: “God understands you better than anyone else. He knows how people get to be the way they are and how they are affected by their surroundings. God understands society perfectly. God knows all the facts about how the world works.” And He is the only One who can meet the high bar we set to be understood. He is the only one who loves us, warts and all, but if He dwells within us, He also can empower us to be more effective at listening to and sharing with other flawed humans such as we are.