There’s something endearing, sometimes even therapeutic, about seeing somebody go through the same experiences you have, don’t you think?
Especially, when they’re of the not-quite-so-positive kind.
You see their frustrations and you think – I’ve been there, I get you.
I know what you’re going through and now somehow feel better for not being alone in that experience.
Or at least that’s how I felt when a new guy moved into the apartment downstairs.
Now, this guy and I don’t have the least bit in common. Except, that is, for the facts that we’re both English-speaking foreigners living in Bogotá and we’ve both lived in the apartment downstairs … and more significantly … have lived to tell the tale.
I moved into this apartment not long after I arrived in Bogotá. If an estate agent had described it to me, they would have probably called it ‘rustic’ or ‘charming’ or some other term to glamorise the fact that it was small, badly ventilated, not even remotely sound-proof (e.g. I could hear it if my fellow-downstairs neighbours so much as sneezed and vice versa) and from a fire-safety perspective … downright dangerous.
But, it was also cheap. Plus, the landlady’s son spoke English. And above all, the landlady said she was willing to take me on despite my complete lack of all the many papers Colombians usually expect you to present when you apply to rent an apartment.
So, a few days after being shown it by the landlady, I signed the contract and moved in.
The experience of living there was what my dad would call ‘character-building’ (which was his way of glamorising everything I hated doing growing up) but which I called, every time I phoned home, by an array of much more … colourful names.
The lack of ventilation meant that the smell of whatever I cooked lingered in the air for days. Along with the smells of the next day’s meals and the next … until they all combined, and I became one of those people they call ‘nose blind’. My home smelled but I lived there, so no longer noticed the smell and was only reminded of the fact by people’s faces when they came over.
For the same cause, there was also a mysteriously sticky quality that coated everything in the apartment (particularly the kitchen/living room area which wasn’t really all that separate from the bedroom area). I’d never thought to find myself in the position where everything … from the walls to bags of flour to the fake potted plant … needed regular scrubbing to combat the molecules of food that filled the air and would cling to anything they could touch.
An Upgrade and a Noisy Neighbour
When a much nicer apartment became available upstairs my husband and I (who moved in after we got married) were very excited to relocate so conveniently.
Suddenly, we remembered what it was like to have a window. A real window, that faced outside and brought in fresh air directly from the world around us.
We remembered what it was like to be woken up in the morning by the gentle brightening of the room around us – because there was actually a way for natural light to enter.
It was amazing and only became more amazing when the aforementioned Canadian man arrived in our old apartment downstairs.
Sitting with our coffee in our new living room, we discovered a new therapy for all the bad memories we had of that place as we listened to him complaining loudly to his friends and family back home … using even more colourful language than I used to when I first arrived.
He lived in a f****** cave, he said. It was a life of perpetual f****** darkness, he said. There was mould, he said. There was oh, so very much f***** mould and there was no room for the fridge he had bought.
For my husband and I, the arrival of said fridge had been a particular highlight in this unique course of therapy we had found ourselves taking. We had spotted it waiting to be brought in when the deliverymen came and, looking at each other, knew immediately from each other’s faces that we had both made the same calculation.
There was no way that that monster of a fridge was going to make it even through the corridor, let alone be accommodated by that teeny-tiny apartment where he lived with two large dogs.
For the rest of the afternoon, we listened, entertained, as he complained on the phone to the company he’d bought it from (using an English-to-Spanish spoken translator) trying to get a refund – which they refused him because it had got damaged trying to jam it past the staircase.
For many weeks afterwards, the ‘monster of a fridge’ decorated the area just outside our apartment building – and even seemed to become one of the ‘local characters’ when somebody decided to decorate it with sunglasses.
And then came the day, a Saturday, when we were woken by the sounds of a scream followed by a loud phone conversation where we discovered that he’d been woken by a f****** rat in his bed.
A rat in his bed.
My time living there had taught me to fear as much – although my husband and I had learned the careful art of rat proofing every possible entrance point for such creatures that roamed that downstairs corridor.
Why Jesus Understands Our Bad Experiences
Shared bad experiences make people more relatable to you. Shared bad experiences make you feel less alone in the messy emotions you feel or have felt going through them.
Which is also why it’s so amazing what Jesus did. As God made man, He joined us in this strange, messy farce we call life and being human.
He was born in a stable – where rats no doubt abounded – and grew up in a poor family.
And then He died, in one of the most humiliating, physically painful, miserable ways imaginable.
Jesus shared in our human suffering so that there’s no depths of misery we might have gone through that He can’t relate to – no depths of misery that He hasn’t overcome.
A More Wholesome Therapy
Now, our Canadian neighbour is long gone and, we hope, in a happier situation. But for a much more wholesome therapy than the one we had eavesdropping on his venting sessions; we can always look at the life of Jesus.
How Jesus endured difficult moments and processed the emotions that accompany them.
How His heart and mind remained unclouded by resentment or any other dark, twisting emotions that we are prone to when we chaff against our circumstances.
And then we can pray about these circumstances that challenge us so much – knowing that we are listened to by an empathetic ear.
Prompts for Thought
What challenging situations are you going through right now? How might Jesus’ life be a model to help you through them?