featured image

Kerry Campbell contemplates how the sharing of wisdom and compassion in only a few words can be life-changing—and life-giving.

In speaking of her initial steps into the bewildering and chilling journey of a stage four cancer diagnosis, Author Kate Bowler highlights an interaction with one of her nurses, Meg. At the time, Kate was struggling with the horror of her new reality as a young mom with late-stage cancer. Terrified, exhausted, and frustrated, she watched Meg walk in and out of her hospital room with her “short pixie Anne Hathaway haircut” and though they were the same age, Kate felt the distance between them: one fine life and one life that was decidedly not fine. Kate says that one day Meg crouched down low beside her and quietly spoke four words that changed everything: “I lost a baby.” Kate says that this was the first time she understood that Meg was on her side, that she too knew what it was like for the world to end. 

Kate’s story got me thinking about my own four words. I have them. And I bet you do, too, or else you will one day. And though that prediction may seem to contain shades of a curse, it’s quite the opposite. I wish you the very best life there could be, but the plain fact is that none of us get through this life without facing something that matters so deeply to us over which we have zero control. Maybe it’s loss or illness or redirection, betrayal, or profound disappointment. Maybe it’s about you or about someone much dearer to you than yourself. Or maybe it’s not a thing that happened at all, but a state of being which we must finally own and accept.

One thing’s for sure: whatever situation our four words describe changes us forever. This utter derailment from what we thought to what we got is our graduate-level course in humanity in which we will all enroll at some point, whether we like it or not.

Click to tweet:
Sharing the words that reflect the pivot points of our deepest pain is how we walk one another through this hard life. #catholicmom

As you are reading today, are your four words floating to the surface? I knew mine immediately, and I would share them with you if we were sitting across the table from one another. If you’ve read my work before or if we know each other in person, it’s very possible that I have already done exactly that. Sharing the words that reflect the pivot points of our deepest pain is how we walk one another through this hard life. It’s the very definition of compassion, empathy, and fellowship which are guideposts for our life of faith. Yet so many of us hide those things, even from ourselves.


watercolor painting hanging on a window


Certainly, I’ve known lots of people whose pretend-perfect lives make it impossible to admit this kind of pain, the kind that changes everything. We may have received messages from our families or church or culture that paint honest vulnerability in shades of weakness or lack of faith instead of the courageous truth to which God is calling us, and that’s a shame. What happens in the brave sharing of those four words, and the stories that go along with them is sacred, on literal holy ground no matter where they’re said. And there’s freedom on the other side of the speaking and the hearing, the knowledge that we’re truly not alone, a gift of one trembling heart extended to another and finding a home there. The wisdom, compassion, and even vocation that can come from that pivot point is such good fruit, it would be a shame to waste it.

As we consider our four words and the sharing of them, we can be reminded of the compassion and love that Jesus brought to every encounter with a human that started with truth. We can speak and we can listen and maybe we’ll hear back the warmest words there ever were: “You too? I thought I was the only one.”

Copyright 2022 Kerry Campbell
Image copyright 2022 Kerry Campbell, all rights reserved.