anxiety, grief, healing

What to Say Instead

Nothing! Yes, often the best thing to say is nothing at all. But that’s so hard for this fix-it society. In fact, I caught myself opening my mouth to spout a fix-it verse just the other day. We often feel like when someone says something, we have to respond. Right that second. Don’t.

Stop. Listen. Think. Respond. Silence is not always a sign of a lack of wisdom. Sometimes it’s the greatest sign of wisdom. Use your filter!

While you’re saying nothing, try just sitting with your friend. Offer a hug, a shoulder, and a tissue box. Actually ask if she wants to talk about it, or what you can do to help. What do you need? What can I do for you? And then respect the answer. Or try a simple I’m so sorry.

“When you make one other human simply see they aren’t alone, you make the world a better place.”

Lysa TerKeurst, Facebook, Sept. 10, 2019

But what do you do about those pesky feelings? It’s ok to feel that way. God isn’t mad at you for feeling that way. Me, too (but don’t hijack the conversation). I understand (but only if you really do – “tired” is not the same as chronic fatigue syndrome; “my husband is away for a week” is not the same as not having one). I can’t say I understand your struggle exactly, but I will certainly pray for you!

I don’t want to give the impression that reciting Bible verses is wrong, but do so judiciously. Don’t offer bandaids for bullet holes. Do offer a relevant Scripture or two, but don’t try to make the issue go away or minimalize it with the “magic” of Bible verses.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

1 Thessalonians 5:11

Bonus responses: I’m on the way with chocolate ice cream! Let’s meet at Starbucks; I’m buying. 

Seeking to understand is always better than trying to give answers! How are you planning on encouraging someone the next time the need arises? How do you need to be encouraged yourself? What works for you?

anxiety, devotional, grief, healing, lessons learned

Jesus Is Not a Band-Aid

My people are broken—shattered!—

    and they put on Band-Aids,

Saying, “It’s not so bad. You’ll be just fine.”

But things are not “just fine”!

Jeremiah 6:14 (MSG)

When you fall down the stairs carrying a bag of groceries and rip every tendon and ligament in your ankle, it hurts. A lot. You have surgery to repair said tendons and ligaments, which also hurts. A lot. But you’re still not cured. You have months (at least) of physical therapy to recondition your knee. And it hurts. A lot. Eventually, it hurts a little less when you wake up in the morning. Eventually, you graduate from a walker to a cane while walking. Eventually, you carry a bag of groceries up the stairs and forget the pain caused by that same action. But it takes a long time. Healing is a painful and long process.

Our emotions are even more fragile than knee tendons and ligaments. So why do we try to slap a Sunday School platitude on a deep emotional wound and tell the traumatized to stop crying about it? That would be like slapping a Band-Aid on a broken ankle. 

  • “Don’t worry about it; just pray.”
  • “Don’t be depressed; you have the joy of the Lord!”
  • “God’s with you, so you shouldn’t feel lonely.”
  • “Just turn the other cheek; it doesn’t matter what others say.”
  • “Time heals all wounds; you should be over that by now.”

I don’t know about you, but that triteness just doesn’t cut it for me. Those phrases leave people feeling like if only we were a better Christian, or believed more, or had more faith, or prayed more, we wouldn’t feel so bad. Author Alison Cook calls it “spiritual bypassing.” Christian author and comedian Jon Acuff calls it “Jesus juking” (you’ll catch the reference if you’re a sports fan). We Scots don’t call it anything because we don’t even acknowledge our feelings. 

No matter what you call it, the effect is the same: we’re stuffing our feelings down into the toes of our winter boots and hoping summer is eternal. Reality check: it’s not. Stuffing our emotions is not healthy. It leads to a whole host of other emotional issues (stress, anger, bitterness) and even physical problems (headaches, stomach aches, chronic muscle pain, and the list goes on). Eventually, you won’t be able to keep those emotions stuffed in. They’ll erupt like Mount St. Helens. 

Here’s the thing. Being a Christian does not make us “immune to normal human emotions” (Cook). My favorite example is David. Just look at all the psalms where he expresses anger, disappointment, fear, sadness, loneliness, shame, and a host of other emotions. But he doesn’t stop there. He works through them. Growth only occurs when we go THROUGH the emotions, not around them (thus the term bypass). 

There are no shortcuts in the Christian life. Psalm 23 talks about the valley of the shadow of death. John 16:33 confirms “In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Nowhere in the Bible does it say that we should not have feelings! Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” It does not say don’t be angry. “You can’t heal what you don’t acknowledge. You can’t transform what you’ve pretended doesn’t exist” (Cook).

BUT, don’t camp out in those negative emotions. Don’t vent to everyone about everything every minute of every day. As Christian author and speaker Lysa TerKeurst says, “emotions are not dictators.” We should not use emotions as excuses to act out, to stay in the valley, to exhibit bad behavior, or to make others feel worse. No! They’re indicators that we need to pay attention to something going on in our souls. 

Yes, Christ helps. Yes, Christ has forgiven me, so I should forgive others, but that doesn’t mean it’s not hard. Yes, Jesus offers his peace when I commit my anxieties to him, but the anxieties keep coming back! Yes, faith is the enemy of fear, but that doesn’t mean I’m not afraid!!

I think we would have less anxiety if we were allowed to talk openly about it. Sometimes that’s all I want—for my feelings to be ACKNOWLEDGED. That’s it. You don’t even have to understand it (because chances are I won’t believe that you do understand it unless I know you’ve been THROUGH it yourself). You don’t have to diagnose it. You don’t have to fix it. Please don’t offer an empty platitude. Just let me express myself. Part of the going-through the process is just acknowledging that those emotions are there. 

Acknowledging our emotions and going through the steps to heal them is just as necessary for a healthy emotional balance as physical therapy after ankle surgery to repair those torn tendons and ligaments. Not acknowledging and working through emotions is like just lying in a hospital bed after the ankle surgery for weeks on end. Sure, you have a new knee, but it’s not going to work very well if you don’t do the hard work of physical therapy. Maybe you think that the ankle should heal up in a few weeks, just like the removed appendix did. Nope. Maybe you think that the hurt should be gone as quickly as the anger (or vice versa). Nope. It takes as long as it takes. Maybe you think you’re all healed, but then a twinge swoops in unexpectedly and leaves you breathless for a moment. Does that mean you need another ankle surgery because you didn’t have enough faith that the surgery and physical therapy you already did was enough? No! It means that healing is a long-term process!!

Whoever gets sense loves his own soul; he who keeps understanding will discover good.

Proverbs 19?8 (ESV)

So, if we’re not offering Jesus Band-Aids, what should we offer instead? What do you think? What’s the most helpful thing you’ve heard when you’ve gone through hard times? Drop me a line and let me know what you think. I’ll be posting about it next time.

grief, healing, lessons learned, moving on, reinventing

If I Don’t Say It . . .

If I don’t say it, it’s not true. If I don’t say it, it didn’t happen. If I don’t say it, I can sweep it under the carpet. Right? As much as my reticent Scottish ancestry would like to believe that, it’s not accurate. Feelings can only be suppressed for so long; events happen whether or not I verbalize them. 

This past two years (more like seven), so many things have happened that I don’t want to acknowledge. But I’ve learned that acknowledgment and acceptance don’t necessarily equal approval.

By accepting that certain things ARE, I free my heart to figure out how to live with their realities without losing my mind.

But how on earth do you accept losing your second chance at love, your health, your finances, your job, your church, and your dreams for your family? Prayer, prayer, and more prayer! Then . . .

You get up, dress up, and show up! You put one foot in front of the other. You cry. And you cry some more. 

Then you dry your tears and do the next thing. But the thing about crying is not allowing yourself to wallow indefinitely. So many bitter people wallow forever and never get through. They are stuck in the Fire Swamp of despair—like the quicksand in Princess Bride, but without hero Westly. 

Whatever you do, don’t keep it all bottled inside! From experience, I can tell you that doesn’t work. Forty-eight years is a long time to keep a stiff upper lip. When you keep it bottled up, it bubbles over—”out of the abundance of the heart, [her] mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). And that’s just not a pretty sound.

Feelings have to be traveled through. There is no around. Going through does not mean getting stuck in them, though. It means processing those feelings, so you can heal. Healing comes from going through, not from stuffing. 

David struggled with this very issue when he was being pursued relentlessly by his enemies. He was honest with the Lord about his emotions, but he didn’t stay there. Many of the psalms document David’s struggle with accepting the hard stuff of life. One of my favorites is Psalm 79. David begins by telling God what others have done against him. Then he lets the Lord know what he’s feeling. “How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever?” (v. 5). He is honest with God about his feelings; he doesn’t keep them bottled up inside. Rather, he gives them over to the Creator of feelings who knows best how to soothe them. He next asks for help: 

“Help us, O God of our salvation,
    for the glory of your name;
deliver us, and atone for our sins,
    for your name’s sake! (v. 9).

But the real sermon in this psalm is the last verse. David gives thanks to the Lord WHILE he’s in the middle of his mess. That’s what we need to do, too.

For me, writing is often the way through hard stuff and its accompanying emotions. What’s your way through the quagmire of messy life?

anxiety, change, grief, healing, lessons learned, moving on

Take It to the Cross

How many times do we hear—or say—that phrase and not know how to take our burdens to the cross and leave them there?

“Rising Cairn” by Celeste Roberge

I connected immediately with this sculpture, “Rising Cairn” by Celeste Roberge, the first time I saw its image. Others have called it “The Weight of Grief,” and that’s what I see. Grief, bitterness, struggles, loneliness, loss, all these things weigh us down. It’s not just all in the mind or in the heart; hard things take their toll physically too. 

All this weight that we carry can make daily living difficult. Imagine carrying a 30-pound backpack on your back all day, every day. Sounds exhausting, right? Well, that’s what we do when we don’t let Christ carry our spiritual and emotional burdens for us. 

I’ve tried to envision how free I would feel to be rid of all the weights I carry. I can picture Christian from Pilgrim’s Progress stumbling toward the cross. As he nears it and lifts his eyes to see the symbol of his Savior’s love, the weights fall right off his back. Can you imagine the freedom and lightness he felt? Can you imagine the freedom and lightness you and I would feel if we could only lay down our rock loads at the foot of the cross.

We can!! In order to help those of us (me) without an imagination, I’ve thought of doing this physically, but I haven’t yet. Gather up a bunch of rocks, use a sharpie to write a burden on each one—whatever’s weighing down me heart and mind and causing me to be bent over with grief. Take those rocks, those burdens to the cross and set them down on the ground beside it. I imagine Jesus bending over and picking up those rocks and in exchange giving me His yoke of peace, love, and grace. How much lighter I would feel! Those aren’t burdens at all; they’re blessings!

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30 ESV

Once we’ve laid our burdens down at the foot of the cross, we can’t pick them up again. Not that I would want to, but we are creatures of habit. 

Recently when I was struggling with a particular issue with one of my children, I was keeping it all inside and not telling anyone about it—even my closest friends. I was so crushed by this burden—just like the person depicted in the “Rising Cairn” sculpture—that I couldn’t focus on anything else. I was filled with anxiety and grief. My dad finally encouraged me to let it go, to let others help me carry that burden to the Lord. It was hard to share what I felt like was my failing as a mother, but I did. It took several months of prayers, tears, and sharing with friends who carried me to Jesus, but I have let it go (mostly). When I dwell on this issue, I still cry. I pray constantly for this problem. But I don’t carry the burden of it around with me, and in that, I am free. 

You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free

John 8:32 ESV

I have other burdens that I’m working on releasing, but sometimes I feel like the rocks are superglued to my hand! Why do I hold onto my burdens instead of loosing the backpack straps and letting the whole bag fall to the ground at the cross as Christian did? I don’t know! But I’m working on it, and I’m inviting Jesus to help me release these burdens. 

What rocks are superglued to your hands? What burdens are in your backpack weighing you down? Take them to the cross and leave them there, friend! If you need someone to pray with you about your cares, let me know.

anxiety, grief, healing, lessons learned

The Loneliness in Suffering

The thing with trials is that they are compounded by loneliness. Many trials are so individualized that no one can fully share in the suffering with you. No one else feels exactly the same way you do. No one else responds the same way to similar events. No one else can bear the weight of feeling through the emotions that accompany your suffering. No one else can cry your tears. So even if you’re blessed enough to have someone’s arm around your shoulders during the tough times, you still have to walk through that dark valley alone.

No one else can cry your tears.

Sure, others have gone through similar trials, but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re hurting right now. Having someone say, “I’ve been there; it sucks, but you’ll make it through,” is sometimes helpful. Even better, having someone just sitting beside you silently is comforting. But it’s not enough.

But Christ is enough. As the only fully divine AND fully human being, He understands what we’re going through in ways that no one else can. He was rejected, mocked, and put to death, which led to being separated from God the Father – the ultimate torture. That means He understands when our kids reject our values (which feels intensely personal). He understands when others offer empty platitudes that feel like mockery. He understands separation from the ones who matter most to us, whether by death or by divorce. Our souls crave this deep level of understanding when we are suffering.

Even better than just knowing that Jesus understands our sufferings like no one else does is the fact that He’s offered to switch burdens with us. Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV) promises us rest if we can let go of the weights that are dragging us down:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Trust me, I know how hard it is to give my burden to Christ. It feels more like He’s prying my fingers open one by one and peeling that heartache back. But it’s worth it. You’ll feel better, I promise.

Leave me a comment with your prayer request, and I will spend time sharing your burden with the Lord. Sharing your heartaches with others who will share them with the One who understands will lighten your load. Try it.

divorce, grief

The Major Deal with a Minor Holiday

I love pizza even though the gluten in the crust and the lactose in the cheese usually make me feel sick. It’s a special treat nonetheless. But it’s not special enough to make up for the fact that it’s my Labor Day picnic-for-one meal. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a few slices of pizza.

So what’s the big deal about a not-always-so-big holiday? It highlights the fact that I’m alone. Again. Just let me wallow in the pit of loneliness for a little while without trying to get me to see the bright side of the situation. That strategy minimizes my feelings.

Everywhere I look on social media, pictures of families together on special outings crop up. My friends are with their families. Extended families are enjoying time together. The grocery store checkout lines are crowded with people buying last-minute bar-b-que items.

The real problem is that my family–the only family I have close by–is with their other family. They’re together, and I’m not. I don’t begrudge my children time with their father’s extended family. I don’t. Except maybe in a tiny way when it means knowing I’m not welcome in a place I used to be called daughter and sister.

While Labor Day might not seem as big a deal as, say, Christmas or Thanksgiving, I’m still sad at the loss of family traditions. And that’s what makes a minor holiday a major deal.

 

 

change, grief

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” ~ Psalm 23:4

Death seems to be everywhere this week. I have heard of several friends of friends whose too-short time on earth came to an end recently. Does it really matter if death was expected? I don’t think so. Perhaps there is some comfort in knowing that you’ve said your goodbyes and that you let him/her know how you felt.

Comfort also comes in knowing that this earthly goodbye is only temporary. As believers, we can count on eternal life.

“Jesus said to her ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.'” ~ John 11:25

But we who remain are left to grieve for the empty places our loved ones leave in their passing. It’s only natural to miss a parent, a friend, a family member. Tears are nothing to be ashamed of; even Jesus wept (John 11:33).

What comfort can we give those who are mourning the loss of a loved one? Cry with them. Sit with them without spouting platitudes. Give hugs–liberally. Bring coffee. And above all, let those you love know–out loud, before it’s too late.

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven; A time to be born, and a time to die . . . A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn, and a time to dance.” ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1-2, 4

And remember, this is just a season–one of many that make up the circle of life. This season of weeping and mourning shall pass. How do I know? I’ve been in my own valley of the shadow of death. I’ll share about it some other time, but just know for now that you are not alone in your grieving.

change, grief

They’re Just Things, Right?

packing china cabinet Only they’re not just things. They’re a piece of my life. They’re tied up with all sorts of happy family memories. As I sit here crying and packing up my grandmother’s china for long-term storage, I can’t help but remember all of the family dinners I attended and hosted. Dinners using fine china. Sometimes this particular set of fine china, sometimes other brands and styles.

I feel as if I’m packing away my holiday dinners, my family, and my gift of hostessing. I know in my head that my china is just going to be packed away for just a season. I know in my head that I will still have holiday dinners, my (smaller) family, and my gift of hostessing. But my heart has a hard time remembering that. My family and my friends tell me that this season of mourning will give way to a time of joy. One day my china will grace a beautiful table that’s surrounded by family and friends again. That will be my time for joy. My clock may be stuck at midnight, but I’m holding onto David’s promise:

“Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” ~ Psalm 30:5 (NIV)

Yes, I know my china is just stuff. I know it’s an earthly treasure, really I do. But my feeble heart sometimes ties my memories of earthly treasures to my heavenly treasures (Matthew 5:19-21).

So sometimes china plates are not really china plates. Sometimes china plates are dreams, and my dreams lay shattered like the crystal goblet that hit the ceramic tiles. So I’ll let the tears fall as I pack my china away, but I’ll try to hold onto the fact that it’s just for a season. A happier period is coming, with or without my china in its cabinet.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4 (NIV)

 

grief

How Many Tears?

cryingDoes it take to fill an ocean? Does it take to forgive the unforgivable? To recover from cancer or a suicide scare? To grieve what will never be? To get over it?

How many tears before friends run out of Kleenexes and platitudes? Actually, I’ll take the tissues, but you can keep your platitudes. How many tears before the church gets flooded?

Just as there is no specified time limit on grief–so they say– I don’t think there should be a specified number of tears. I hope. I’ve spent nearly a year crying my way through Sunday services. Frankly, I’m tired of it. But every time I walk into church, my eyes begin to water.

I spent the first 6 or 7 months trying unsuccessfully to hide my tears. I alternated between fleeing to the restroom and hoping someone–anyone–would care enough to notice.

Then I went to a different church, but that’s a story for another post. When my eyes begin to well up, people I don’t even know surround me with their arms, prayers, and encouragement! It’s been healing.

People say I shouldn’t be embarrassed by my tears. But I am. Why? I’m not sure.

I thought I’d take a look at what God says about tears and crying. According to my trusty NIV Study Bible, there are 9 references to tear/s and 22 references to cry/cried. Twenty-seven is not a huge number; most of the cry/cried verses are talking about calling out to God for help in some situation as opposed to actual tears. But it’s enough to make me realize that God notices when my tears fall. He hears me when I cry, with or without actual words.

Nothing in Scripture seems to indicate that anyone’s tears will stop flowing before Heaven, so I should probably buy stock in Kleenex. John does promise in Revelation that Jesus Himself will wipe away our tears though. That’s a day I’m looking forward to!

In the interim, I’ll probably cry in church tomorrow. My friends may run out of tissues, and the church may overflow with tears, but that’s okay because the Savior hears my cries for healing, and the King of Kings will offer me something better than Kleenexes.

How many tears does it take? I think I should stop keeping track.