Updated: Aug 25, 2020
When I was in my early 30's, I went through several events that helped me learn to be grateful in the generosity of others and gracious in their withdrawal from me. In one instance, a close friend went through a soul-crushing crisis. We were young enough that neither of us had experienced anything like it before. Although the pain was hers to hold, I climbed down into her dark hole with her and stayed for a long time, unwilling for anyone I love to sit in the dark alone. She thanked me for my friendship, noting that several of her other close friends had stepped back from their friendship instead. I was aghast. Were they really friends to begin with? Her matter-of-fact response was that her situation was very painful and some people can't handle that kind of pain. She wasn't bitter towards them.
She'd been a wonderful friend to me, so with compassion, I listened to every terrible detail. Together, we figured out what to do next, and I carried some of the burden myself. It was emotionally exhausting and didn't end well. I wasn't mature enough to understand that I couldn't stay down in that hole with her. I allowed it to consume my life, and when she made questionable choices in an effort to soothe her pain, I couldn't handle it. I wasn't Jesus, and I disappointed her.
It was a hard lesson in boundaries and the need to protect my heart as I try to help others.
After I'd waited many years, my prince charming finally came, but the whole happily ever after thing didn't exactly happen. First, there were two difficult pregnancies while we tried to set up a new household. I tried to make new friends, but depression due to the sickness and loneliness sucked me dry. Then I had two babies, which was all-consuming! As that started to ease up, we decided to have another baby. After another difficult pregnancy, were plunged into a new level of crisis. My mental health was placed on the back burner for many years. I didn't have the time or energy to enter into anyone else's hole with them, and that hurt some of my loved ones.
Some people are drawn to crisis and some people are repelled, which I learned first-hand after Redmond was born. People who'd been in the periphery of my life suddenly stepped up and did thoughtful things, while others who had known me forever were silent. For a while, I felt guilty for not reaching out more to those who backed away from me during that time. Then I remembered what we were going through and accepted that it was, without question, their job to reach out to me.
With that realization came the initial reaction of hurt and betrayal. After all I did for them? But then I remembered my friend's wisdom: when people are going through their own, often silent, struggles, they can't handle your crisis. Maybe they don't have the emotional capacity to handle my crisis, or maybe they have no idea what to say or do.
Three years into our crisis, as we've established a new normal, I've noticed something else. Most of the people who rushed to help us have receded into the background again, likely helping someone else with their suffering. Several of the people who had been close before and backed off for a time have returned, easing their way back into our lives.
I'm grateful for the people who pressed in to help during our crisis. I'm particularly grateful for the steadfast few who didn't change in any way, but were there when we needed them. They may have been awkward, but they kept coming back. My sister hit the pause button on her own life and climbed down in our hole of despair and sat there with us. Then she wisely said, I think you've got this now, and climbed back out to return to her own life. She never stopped checking on us though, calling and listening and refusing to let us give in to despair. Our parents both stepped in to do whatever they could to support us, too.
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If you are going through a crisis, be grateful to those who rush toward your suffering, be gracious to those who stand back. You have enough on your plate without nursing resentment and hostility towards those who can't handle it. Thank God for those who He sends to help you, receive what they have to offer, and release the others. It does you no good to hold onto unforgiveness and resentment.
If you have a friend going through a crisis and you can handle it, climb down into their dark hole with them and sit a while. You don't need to solve any of their problems, but don't leave them alone during the worst of the crisis. Once the worst of it is over, climb back out. Pray for them, check on them regularly, but remember that you aren't Jesus. You will disappoint them if you try to fill that role.
To read our story of shattered dreams, medical miracles, and restored hope - check out my book, "Looking Up When Life Looks Down." My prayer is that through reading our story, you will learn new tools to aid in your own ability to handle a crisis, see a new perspective of where God is in the middle of very hard things, and come to trust Him more. It's on sale now for $6.99, with free shipping when you use the code FREESHIP20. I'll sign a copy just for you.