Last week a friend was having a rough day. The weather was nasty cold, she had a double shift at work, was just getting over a cold and still felt run-down, and her car wouldn’t start. So she vented on her social media.
The responses were all hopefully optimistic: “Just Cheer Up!” and “Smile, it’ll get better!” I remember thinking that, as my friend is not normally a complainer, that something else might be up. So I replied with “Boo. 🙁 Hugs.”
Stellar pastoral response in 7 letters and an emoticon? Hardly. But it did initiate a deeper conversation, that started with her saying “thanks for NOT telling me to just cheer up!”
In that conversation my friend revealed that there were some rather significant stressors in her life at the time. She had (has) been struggling for a while, and was feeling overwhelmed by the pressure. Her friends had been telling her to just cheer up, or smile it away, or ‘pray to make it all better!’. While she was greatly appreciative for her other friends’ concern, she knew her life wasn’t going to instantly become perfect.
She told me in detail about some of the realities that were wearing her down: the collection of little things that were becoming more and more annoying, the big things that would be disheartening to anyone. It was rough! No wonder she was struggling. So I listened. I let her vent. I didn’t try a quick fix, I just acknowledged that it was indeed a difficult time for her. I asked if there was anything I could do for her, asked if I could pray for her to have strength to get through it all.
Reflecting on that, I’m wondering how often we try to ‘fix’ some situation or someone around us, and what our motivation is for that desire to ‘fix’. Obviously, it comes from a place of deep caring – we want our loved ones to be happy, not sad. But in trying to ‘fix’, I think sometimes we’re dishonoring the sadness – that real emotion – for our own personal reasons. Maybe we’re uncomfortable with sadness, maybe we don’t feel equipped to deal with the possibility of a conversation on depression, maybe our schedules are so full that we’re not seeing adequate time to engage with the root issues, maybe we don’t feel close enough to the person to want to engage with their difficulties, maybe we’re battling our own creeping sadness and are afraid this will bog us down further.
So we offer the quick fix of ‘just cheer up!” or “I’ll pray!” in the hopes that it will work, as though the person hasn’t already thought of that idea, or tried it multiple times. I believe that we say it with the best of intentions, with the desire to express concern while remaining disengaged. I’ve said it before, and likely will fall into saying it again. I’ve heard it before too – and likely will hear it again. And I know, when I hear it, that I feel that I’ve not been heard, that my situation is not important enough, etc. I know (logically) that my emotions are taking over in the worst possible way, but I still feel the hurt of being dismissed.
A few days later I checked in with my friend again, to see how she was doing, if there was anything I could do for her now. “Nope, thanks, I just needed someone to listen.”
Don’t we all!