we have a lovely group at the refuge called “advocates”. we started a few years ago and meet monthly for training-learning-practicing some of the issues related to journeying with people in hard places. we also have a smaller extension of advocates that meets more intentionally once a month to share the load together at the refuge & also gather more skills and practice in a tangible way. it’s one of the most challenging groups i am a part of because it forces me to get in touch my weaknesses & challenges as an advocate & keep learning the fine art of “staying in” without “getting completely sucked in.” it is a very tenuous balance, especially in very intense situations that are tricky, long-term and real. i sometimes wish we could package up some of what we do there so that others could get a taste. we have awesome outside speakers who come in and stir the pot, we do all kinds of fun interactive things, we laugh, and we keep working on our own stuff so that we can be healthier & free-er & longer-lasting in the relationships that we are in.
one thing that always seems to come up are the dumb things people have said to us when we’re hurting. we would put these in the list of “umm, not helpful.” and while a lot of these aren’t inherently bad or wrong to say & i know they come from really sincere, beautiful hearts. but i do think many just stem from a desire to relieve our own anxiety when someone is struggling. instead of just going with “oh, that’s really hard”, we sometimes say things like:
“well, it could be worse. you should be thankful.”
“i know exactly how you feel. i had ____ happen to me and it was __________(10 minutes of rambling on and on and completely missing what the hurting person was saying…)
“oh, that happened to so and so and they are doing just fine now”
“have you read __________________?”
“have you tried this doctor, chiropractor, video-series, vitamins, etc. etc. etc. it did the trick for me!”
“in the Bible it says…….”
“you should ________________”
“if you would just ________”
“when are you ever going to get over this?”
oh i could go on and on. i have undoubtedly said many of these things to so many people when it really was the last thing they needed in the moment. none of us are perfect and we can’t hit every moment exactly right, especially when we are dealing with tricky situations with all kinds of nuances. but the thing i am reminded of the most is how hard it is for us to tolerate pain. to live in the tension of not having an answer or not having something wrapped up into any kind of neat and tidy package. of not having a clear next step in every situation.
i always say some of us act like we are sure that people are “one good sentence away” from a completely new course in their life. so we do whatever we can to cram that sentence into a moment that would be much better served with silence. i think the metaphor applies far beyond these moments to issues with church & religion & theology. we want easy, clear answers. we want neat & tidy. we want “listen here now & do it my way. ”
i have had so many people journeying with me through the ups and downs of my back saga over the past few months. and the #1 thing that i have appreciated the most are those who have said “this sucks, i am so sorry, i am thinking and praying for you and i love you.” that’s all i have needed. not advice. not scriptures to claim so that i would be healed if i just believed them (yep, can never seem to escape that one). not “if you would just do this or that or that or this.” not “maybe God’s trying to teach you to slow down.” not “my so and so had the surgery and she was never the same.” just “this sucks, i am so sorry, i am thinking and praying for you, and i love you.”
i get the tension. i feel the anxiety in me all the time when i am journeying with people in really hard places. i want an easy answer. i want their pain to go away. i want them to be “one sentence away from everything being better” and be the one who says that sentence. i want to relieve their pain. i want to relieve my pain. but all of these tidy things we do and say are just ways to try to control instead of trust. to grip tightly instead of let go. to in some weird way play God instead of let God be God.
yeah, it’s good for us to remember that most of us aren’t one sentence way from everything being better, no matter how many great ideas that one sentence might contain!
what are some things you’d add to this list, really not-so-helpful-things-people-have-said-to-you-when-you-were-struggling. and what are some things that really helped you, strengthened you, encouraged you?
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a few other unrelated things i wanted to share:
- some of you already knew, and others of you probably did not know him, but a friend and brother on the journey, gary means, passed away saturday from a sudden heart attack. he has been one of my faithful blog friends since i started the carnival & we wrote together for communitas collective. please keep his family in your prayers and remember how fragile our lives really are.
- well, tomorrow, november 18th, is the big day. operation-help-kathy-be-able-to-sit-down-again, yeah! i am nervous but relieved that maybe now i can finally really heal. i will be in the hospital 1-2 nights max. i appreciate your prayers.
- the refuge has a newly designed website up and running, it’s at the same URL as our other one–www.therefugeonline.org. check it out.
- we just had a creative open share night at the refuge that we call “beauty night”, men & women sharing any pieces they’ve created (art, photography, poetry, spoken word, video, music, and anything in between). it’s one of my most favorite things we do & every time i am blown away by what comes out. you can read a little bit more about it & see a few pix here.