I once knew this elderly lady who seemed to have every physical ailment that a person can have. She even had problems that were yet to be invented. She couldn’t be outdone by anyone else’s physical maladies. If you had a cough, she had strep. If you had a headache, she had an aneurism. If you had a hurt back, she had a slipped disc. People were scared to tell her they broke something for fear she might deliberately break her own neck so as not to be outdone. I quickly learned with this woman not to ask her how she was doing unless I had a few hours to kill. She would go down a long laundry list of every infirmity plaguing her in vivid, at times too vivid, detail. Generally, this degree of openness is the exception rather than the rule. Even then, she was only talking about physical problems, and these are pretty easy to be open about. Most people keep their hurts, problems, and heartaches stuffed down inside.

Think about how often you ask, “How are you?” What is the typical response? “Fine.” Right? How often have you said “fine” when people enquire about the current state of affairs within your own life, when, in reality, things were not so fine?

If there is one thing I have learned from working with so many people as they sort out their problems, it is that people are like icebergs. They only present a tiny portion of who they really are to the outside world. Naturally, we all present ourselves differently to different people across various contexts, and to a certain degree this is healthy, boundaries are a good thing, but so often people keep a great deal of their lives hidden below the icy depths where the light never penetrates.

So many people keep pain, disappointments, shortcomings, fears, and wounds hidden. They flash a smile to everyone they come in contact with throughout the day, but deep inside there is often a secret ache. It has been said that there is a hurt in every home and heartbreak in every pew. Sometimes I sit in sadness as I hear people recount past wounds that have never healed or fresh gashes to their innermost being. Often, I am even surprised by the things people go through; yet so often, we are oblivious. All we see is a tiny shard of ice protruding above the water gleaming in the sun, but under placid waters rests a monolithic piece of ice that represents a great variety of wounds, hurts, and hang-ups.

So why is it important to remember that people are like icebergs? I think it gives us a lot of insight as to why people act the way they do at times. Sometimes, we are cruising happily in our ships, and out of nowhere we run into these icebergs. We don’t see it coming, and get a reaction we were not expecting. We then become reactive to the other person because it seems they are making a big deal out of nothing. We wonder why they reacted the way that they did. We find it hard to understand their behavior. If we knew the entire context, however, things would be a lot clearer. Sometimes, we need to cut others some slack. Maybe they are going through far more than what we see. Maybe there is more to their story than what meets the eye. Maybe we need to practice grace.

When we understand that people are like icebergs, we can take the time to really get to know people. I can promise you, if you provide a safe environment and a listening ear, people will open up. Everyone needs someone to talk to. Feeling connected to others is a basic human need. We need someone to listen, tell us they understand, and offer us hope. We should be hope givers. That is the job of every Christian, because we have been given the ultimate hope. At times, everyone needs to be reminded of that hope.

We also need to know that we are icebergs ourselves. So often we keep things locked away under the surface. Maybe it’s time to confide in someone else. Maybe it is time to let our own hurts thaw out so we can start to feel again and enjoy what life has to offer.

People are like icebergs. There is a lot going on under the surface. Let’s keep this in mind the next time we hear, “Everything is fine.” Sometimes things are fine, but sometimes people need to know that we care enough to hear an answer other than “things are fine.”

Take the time to hear people’s stories and love them even though they are broken, because we are all broken.

“Let there be kindness in your face, in your eyes, in your smile, in the warmth of your greeting…Don’t only give your care, but give your heart as well.” – Mother Theresa

Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.