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Living with a Reference Point

Sometimes the briefest moments capture us, force us to take them in, and demand that we live the rest of our lives in reference to them. What did my mother mean? Part of me knew then, and still knows now, that she was afraid for me. If somehow she could convince me not to be afraid, we could rally around the truism she had grown up with: there was nothing to fear but fear itself. My mother didn’t know how to conquer what I was afraid of, nor could she even begin to tell me how to do it for myself… As I made my way downstairs to my room, I resolved never to cry again.

-Lucy Grealy, Autobiography of a Face, pp. 78-79

This may be the most famous quote from the book. Lucy’s mother told her not to cry. It affected her for the rest of her life.You have to know something of her life story for that to really have its full impact. The book gives you a sense of it, but there’s more beyond that.

I have used this quote three or four times in sermons already since reading it. This past Lord’s Day, I was preaching on Ecclesiastes 7:21-22, which begins with the injunction, “Do not take to heart all the things that people say…” Lucy took her mother’s words to heart. They captured her and demanded that she lived the rest of her life in reference to them.

Be careful what you take to heart. Be careful what words and moments you choose to live your life in reference to.

Let me also say that true empathy isn’t telling others not to cry; it is crying with them. This is part of what makes the gospel of Christ so wonderful: He doesn’t tell us not to cry. He cries with us. He doesn’t tell us not to cry. He promises to wipe away our tears.

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