You are so brave and quiet I forget you are suffering. ~ Ernest Hemingway
Most people are dialed into the blatant suffering of others, because we are not callous barbarians, after all. People who are publicly suffering are easy to spot: Someone with a physical injury, a death in the family, a person going through a divorce, someone who lost their job, etc. – these are all obvious situations that we are responsive to. By asking people questions, not being self-absorbed, not listening for what you want to hear…Basically being engaged in the conversation, or relationship, for long enough to see the plain truth. Reacting would be bonus points and extra credit.
There is another category of suffering. This category is the ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’ suffering. The one characteristic that sets apart this person from the standard recognizable sufferer listed above is this: It’s chronic. It doesn’t go away with time. It’s not a “season.” Telling the person it’s a season, makes the person on the outside feel more comfortable, but this can actually be inaccurate and even harmful; causing the person in pain to withdraw, become quiet, build walls, and sadly the people in pain will toss you cushions so they can help you feel good about their situation and pain. How incredibly sad is this. (Rhetorical – question mark is silly.) It numbs the sufferer to the reality, but not the pain.
The latter category is private. This type of suffering is abominable and cruel to the person in pain because there is shame attached, which keeps the sufferer quiet and withdrawn. You’d never identify the person in a million years because these often tender-hearted people are adept at smiling, making nice, and often times, they can even be the “helpers.” (See the cushion example above.)
These are some examples, although there are many more: The nurse with the eating disorder. The neighbor enduring domestic abuse. The functioning alcoholic/addict. The caregiver neglecting their own needs and self-care. The sex-trafficking victim. Your friend with the chronic auto immune disease. The pastors wife who cannot conceive, despite your positive and peppy chorus to her to “have faith.” (Making her feel worse because she must not have enough faith.) Important point to mention: This perceived lack-of-faith does not explain why the person is going through x, y, or z. Sometimes it takes a very brave person to call a time-out, a B.S., and a foul. Seriously!
Back up to the friend with the auto immune disease: This is not hypothetical – Nor are any one of the examples I’ve given in each category. I have a precious friend who lives with Lyme disease. Lyme disease is not curable. Don’t get me started on faith again…. She is living with both chronic and acute pain. She is separated from her 5 year old daughter to be hospitalized, intermittently. She is smart and educated, and has given up her career as a labor and delivery nurse because of this unfair, insidious disease. She doesn’t feel like a normal mom. Because she doesn’t get to be. She does not wear a badge announcing her Lyme disease and suffering. As a matter of fact, what she does wear is a huge, genuine, beautiful smile. She prays out-loud, on-the-spot, for any one who she sees needs it. She devotes herself to caring, healthy relationships. She loves women in her sphere of influence. She is my hero. And she is fighting silently.
Problem (aside from the obvious) is this: she shares her heart, her hurt, once (because how many times does she need to say it, for you to believe her pain)….time goes by…people see her smiling in Instagram photos, and think to themselves, “Welp, she must be fine now!” Praise the Lord.
SHE’S NOT. Enjoy the cushion she gave you.
There are people currently fighting a daily battle. But people absolve and remove themselves from the hard stuff. Because it’s hard. People are assholes. ***To everyone now worrying & fretting themselves about my salvation, because I said a bad word – get over yourself, and your legalistic religion. I can’t with you. I love Jesus Christ, I have been baptized, my life bears tasty spiritual fruit, I can quote more scripture than your aunt Ruth, and I’m going to heaven in a sugar bowl. My Daddy says so 😉 So there. (Sticking my tongue out at you also.)***
A support system for people suffering (insert 92% of the population)(non-scientific for those ostentatious & statitious-minded folks that are gonna hold my nose to the fire on this) is everything. Let me repeat. In case my parenthesis were distracting. A support system for people suffering is EVERYTHING.
This applies to you. If you are reading this, you are now accountable. Too late. I see you. If you were blessedly chosen to help someone, YOU CANNOT TAP YOURSELF OUT. That’s all kinds of lame. And pathetic. UNLESS YOU TAP SOMEONE ELSE IN, who is perhaps more helpful, more educated, or otherwise better suited and equipped to deal with hard things.
How do we help the people if we don’t know??
Here’s the thing: Some people are born sensitive to people’s hurts and hang ups. We can smell it a mile away. We don’t know specifics, we aren’t psychic, but we know somethings not copacetic. We feel it. And we are genuinely surprised and caught off guard that other people can’t. We feel all the feels. We feel all the things. It’s both a super power and a curse to be an Empath, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. Because we rock. We are the helpers. We move. We hustle for other people.
If this isn’t you – Here’s what you CAN do!
Practice being present in conversations. Really listen. Stop looking over people’s shoulder when their talking. Don’t use your kids as an excuse! Meet people without your durn kids. Eventually, your excuses grow up and move out. Ouch.
Gain people’s trust by being trustworthy. Don’t gossip about the person’s pain because your just “trying to get other people to pray, too.” No, you aren’t. Be vulnerable yourself. You go first. Create an atmosphere of safety. Create an environment of give-and-take. It’s called friendship. You can. You’re not gonna die. You’re not busy. You just have creative excuses. I see you. Rise up is not just for the Atlanta Falcons! Ya, I said it. Dropped that bomb like a Boss.
And lastly, if you really care to care – FOLLOW UP with the person who’s suffering. News Flash: They are not okay because, #1) They haven’t brought “IT” up, #2) They are smiling, #3) They seem fine. Confirm, and confirm again. And then confirm some more, and repeat that until they verbally tell you that they are OUT OF THE WOODS, and you believe them. You have to believe them. Remember, the cushion? They can be throwing you that proverbial cushion to make you feel better. So, confirm. Repeat.
I am so passionate about this crap, Y’all.
Life is CRAY. If you have to put down your latte, or yoga mat (I hate you) to go over there – Do. It. If you have to throw a hat on because you look like a frumpy, homeless, hot mess – GO!!!!!!
Caring is not for the weak. But it is for all human beings. We were created and designed to authentically care. Not to put it on a resume, not to check it off our stupid To-do list, not to say “we tried” when we only did half-heartedly. Just no. No.
We are so selfish. We have been so blessed but we can’t be bothered to get dirty in someone’s life. I’m so mad about this.
We need to be willing to sit on the floor and cry with our neighbor, for as long as it takes, without worrying that our coffee’s getting cold, without looking past their eyes, until they are ready to get up. Not you. You sit there. Cry. Hold their hands in your warm hands. This is life. This is my whole life, personally. I would not ask you to do something that I would not do, or have not done.
Practice love. Over and over. Love like a wave, washing over and over. It never ends. You are never done baby. The ocean does not end. You do not end. You do not tap out until you die. From your death bed, love. I will. I promise. I will also say something funny from my death bed that you do not expect. Because I am Sarah.