This is an article I wrote for a magazine recently. I thought I would share it on my blog as well.
I am writing from the valley today. It’s a place each of us will walk though in life, sooner or later. The degrees of darkness in the valley will be different for each of us, but we will all face a valley. I am hoping to send a message out from humans groping through this valley to other humans who are traveling through sunshine.
As you read, my friend, remember that everyone’s valley is different. Whether it is a valley of death, financial set backs, loss of home, best friend moving away, or any traumatic, stressful, life altering experience, it is a valley. These words are not written to place people in boxes. They are not written to excuse those who are in the valley. They are written so you can get a glimpse of how it looks and feels from the darkness and loneliness of the valley.
One of the first things I would like to shout from those in the valley is that we are very fragile. Physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Physically, this makes us very tired. The smallest things like grocery shopping can leave us exhausted. Being in even a small crowd of people seems to amplify into grandstands of humanity. We do not always sleep deeply or well. The tired, exhausted feeling still clings to us when we open our eyes in the morning. We are weak. We need to sit down and rest more often then usual.
What you can do:
Go slowly. If we need to have some quiet time by ourselves , do not think we don’t like you! We only need to organize and rest our overtired mind and body. It would be very helpful if you would clean up our house or mow our lawn or even take care of the children while we rest.
Mentally, are brains move extra slow. We say things we don’t mean and mean things we don’t say. We get facts confused. We may forget to tell you an important tidbit of information. We may make statements that mean one thing to us, and something totally different to you. We may forget to return your phone call or text message or tell you thank you for a kindness. We may even keep your best set of dishes for weeks and simply forget to return them. You see, our brains are super full right now. It’s like this gigantic life issue is taking up all the predominant thoughts and space. Some items and people and events get lost in the current swirling around the great vortex of our life. They may resurface later, weeks down the road, or they may get lost in the tide. It is not even a matter of which ones have more value then others. It is just that the stuff that makes up thinking and remembering gets cumbersome at times.
What you can do:
First of all, please do not be offended or take things personally when we forget to clarify ourselves. We do not mean to hurt you. Your acts of kindness, no matter how small are like a salve to our thirsty hearts. The kindness rubs in quickly, because our hearts are parched for kindness and gentleness. It is gone from view in no time, but it has made a tremendous difference on out lives! Every layer of salve you put on, no matter if we remember to thank you or not, is a layer of healing for our wounds. The end results at beautiful.
Be patient with us and do not judge us harshly if we do not always have the best judgment. Give us time to think through new ideas. We are usually not good at snap decisions. Keep it simple. Whether it’s bringing a meal in or planning a small gathering or setting up a schedule to help us out, please keep it simple. If we are bombarded with too many options, we get totally overwhelmed. Often we may not even care about the details of how or when or where.
Emotions are our trickiest companions. This is where things can change really fast. We may tell one friend that we are having a good day. Four hours later, everything has changed. We are struggling with questions and bombarded with fears and ready to melt into a puddle of despair. This does not mean we were not honest with our first friend. It just means that our emotions are swinging all over. We do not mean to be lying. It’s like being on a teeter totter. You may catch us, up, down or fairly level all in one day.
What you can do…
Once again, do not take it personally. If your friend can’t talk about an issue right now, that’s ok. Give them the freedom to have some space. Perhaps you considered yourself a close friend, and suddenly feel very distant. More then anything else, this may be because you are at two very different places in life right now. Let the ones in the darkness know it’s OK to be where they are. Once again, it is likely not you. It is the enormity and overwhelming situation that makes both of you not know how to deal with the other person. Give each other grace and time. Always, always give grace and unconditionally love.
I read an article recently by Susan Silk and Barry Goldman on how to help those who are hurting. I give them all the credit for this idea I am about to present . I feel it is very accurate and helpful.
Imagine a circle with a bull’s eye, surrounded by a circle around it, and a circle around that circle and a circle around that one and on and on as many as it takes. The bulls eye is the person most affected by trauma in life right now. Maybe it’s cancer, or death of a loved one, or a broken heart. That person in the center is hurting badly right now. The circle surrounding this person is labeled spouse, or children. The next circle is labeled close family. The next circle is close friends. The next one just friends. The last circle is associates.
You may change the order of the circle around to fit your specific situation. Perhaps your friends are closer then family or you have no spouse or children. The most important thing is to put the ‘trauma’ in the center and go out from there with people affected the most from the situation.
Now think of giving positive thoughts and kindness to the people inside the circle from you. In other words, if a family member dumps all life’s problems on the spouse, it will most likely not help the spouse a bit. Instead, the family should use encouragement, sympathy, prayers, and strength to encourage the spouse. The friends should do the same for the family. Instead of expecting the family to hold up the friends and be strong and always positive, the friends should strengthen the family and not dump all their troubles and worries and concerns on them.
So simply put, if someone is closer related or better friends with the ‘trauma person’ then you, then by all means, do not add to their burdens with burdens of your own.
This is a beautiful picture of us bearing each other’s burdens. We look out for our brother. Our other brother looks out for us. It’s a strong chain of strength that can flow with positive thoughts and prayers and encouragement right into the heart of the trauma.
The other extreme is being so careful with every word you say that you are not even real. It does folks good to know they are not alone in the darkness. That others have been there and survived. That life is not perfect or totally uncomplicated for folks around them. It’s when folks dump too much darkness into folks already walking in the valley that the valley can become even darker.
Everyone likes a good story. Some people like to tell good stories. If they hear about a traumatic event, they nearly always have a bigger one to share. This frankly, does not help. I know I have been guilty of this in the past. If you are on the outside, looking in, do not share other sad or similar stories unless they have an encouraging moral to them. It is overwhelming sometimes, to hear of other peoples trials while you are in the valley yourself. Having someone tell you a worse story then your own seems to make you feel like they are minimizing your pain. It feels like what you are going through shouldn’t be hurting so badly because someone else had it so much worse. It makes you shut down and crawl into your shell when you actually need the healing that comes from grieving your own loss or hardship.
Perhaps you are looking in from the outside, longing for ways to show you care. You think of a kindness and offer it to the person in the valley. The person in the darkness turns you down. That hurts. You wonder if they don’t like you. If you offended them. If you are not good enough for them.
All these things are most likely not true. That’s how Satan rolls. Using fragile situations to amplify misunderstandings and plant seeds of lies. Most likely, the person in the valley was too overwhelmed that day to say yes. Perhaps they were too tired to even think about it.Perhaps they were embarrassed of how needy they are right now. Perhaps they felt like a project that everyone was trying to fix. Perhaps they simply didn’t think or were distracted by something else at the moment.
Don’t give up if this happens. You can think of other creative ways to help. When people in the valley feel like those in the sunshine are ‘fitting them into their already full schedule’ it can be very intimidating. Random acts of kindness can show that you truly love them in a more gentle way sometimes.
Having been in the darkness has changed me. The knowledge that God will bring us into the light again has held me through the valley. Prayers and kindness and wonderful friends and family that surround me have given me the courage to write these words from the dark side in life. We were treated so respectfully and with so much love in our valley. I apologize to anyone I hurt unintentionally in my own valley. You were all so very kind to me!
Now that I see glimpses of sunlight and rainbows, I wanted to share a bit with others who are basking in the full light of day. Be gentle. Give grace freely. Do not judge. It may be your turn to walk through the valley soon. Then others can extend the same grace to you that you extended to them!