most of us aren't one sentence away from everything being better

most people arent one sentence awaywe 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?

* * * * *

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.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

8 Comments

  • WOW! Kathy! Another hit out of the park–Sure you’re not a major leaguer? When I was in my mid 30s a friend went through a physical something that the doctors could not explain. It wasn’t life threatening but it lasted over a year. Her skin especially on her hands and arms would get terribly itchy and blister. Her period happened every other week and she got terribly fatigued. People offered all sorts of “advice” AKA judgment of some sin in her life, not praying enough or having enough faith, asking her what God was trying to teach her. Not fun! as you described. When I was asking God what he wanted from me with regard to my friend I got as close to an audible response as I’ve ever come–“Just learn to sit quietly along side her.” Nearly 20 years later I am still trying to learn how to do that with the hurting people in my life.

    Reply
  • Kay and I are thinking about you and praying that all will go well tomorrow, and that you will be able to go with the group in January.

    For me, the frustrating comments are those that tell me why God is causing pain/bad things to happen to me or someone else. I think we presume way too much when we think we can explain what God is thinking, or decide that what is happening is God’s doing.

    My friend who is dying would like to know why this is happening to her. But she knows that none of us know. She’s tried all the remedies that medicine and friends have to offer, and nothing works. I take her pudding, sit with her, and listen to her stories.

    Some comments and advice are not helpful. But they often show that someone cares. Occasionally, there are gems among the chaff. I saw a series of doctors about my back problem, only to be told that there was no problem. Eventually a friend suggested that I see his neurosurgeon, who immediately told me I had a ruptured disc (and said the other doctors were less than competent). In that case, I was really glad I followed a friend’s advice.

    Reply
  • Kathy-do you have a lil yoda who is invisible and whispers these incredibly awesome words of inspiration to share with us all??? Just have to smile reading your post as I know you write this in prep for your surgery. I think I am my own worst enemy as far as self-talk goes when it comes to deep pain issues and such. Hmmm where did i read something about that recently??? 🙂

    I will extend a cyber hand when I pray for and think about you Kathy hoping many others are doing the same and just silently *being there* with you in thought & spirit. Hope the hospital food isn’t too bad lol Thanks for another heartfelt post!!!

    Reply
  • I once heard the voice of wisdom say to me “If you don’t know what to say, just say “Wow, that must be hard””

    Reply
  • ohh one of my fave entries you’ve ever written because it makes me want to be there sooo bad. I want to be in that advocate group and get the training & encouragement & experiences you all are getting!!! I really get what you’re saying here – I so want to be better at this.. and a better advocate.

    so glad the surgery went well. saw Jose’s post. Thanking God with yoU!

    Love
    randi 🙂

    Reply
  • Hmm…. another spot on article, Kathy. Thanks 😉

    Reading the other comments, I was reminded of Job’s friends. It’s odd. We hear some teaching on “Job’s trials”, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone teach on his friends… something I see in that narrative – at the end, God showed up and was not angry with Job, he just challenged his thinking. When he was done with that, though, he turned his attention to the friends and told them they had not said right things about him (God) and he was not happy about it. He told them they needed to ask Job to forgive them and then he would need to actually forgive them or things would not go well for them. Interesting… they’re biggest thing was trying to get Job to admit his secret sin to account for the calamity. Yet God backed Job, not them…

    Anyway, another ramble… 🙂

    I’m glad to hear that surgery went well. 🙂

    Reply
  • minnow – yup, i’m sure, ha ha. come down and hang out with me for a few days & you’ll see 🙂 it’s always so interesting, how we can all remember our stories around these kinds of moments. and i am always struck how this isn’t science but an art. and we all know art doesn’t just come in a day, or a rush; we all will be constantly learning more as we go…

    sam
    – thanks for your prayers. yeah, i know one person that isn’t Jesus-y, but is really into mind over matter and thinks that when people die or get sick it’s because they don’t will themselves to live. that pisses me off as much as throwing in the God piece. i was like “tell that to my 39 year old friend who loved his wife and his kids and did everything he freaking could to stay alive.” but i am with you, too, that sometimes we can learn some really good things through advice. the question is whether it’s solicited or not, ha ha.

    robert – thanks for your prayers & love from afar. they mean a lot. no, but i wish i did have my own little personal yoda. favorite line in our family: “don’t try, do” happy thanksgiving.

    dave
    – i’ll never forget that moment. boy have we got a run for our money on that one, ha ha. love ya, my friend, so grateful for you…

    randi – i am going to work on how to get you some of our stuff. it won’t be any time soon but eventually! thanks for your heart, it’s beautiful and i’m glad you’re willing to go to these new and scary and beautiful places.

    katherine
    – sorry i just noticed what you meant. i’ll fix it right now. my friend karl mentioned this same story. it was their faith, not his, that was part of the problem. check out his blog on the refuge blog–the lazy paralytic. i don’t have the link because we just switched blogs but it’s up there, email me if you can’t find it!

    Reply
  • Pingback: what seems to help in the midst of pain « Geography of Grace

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *