Monday, December 9, 2013

A Place To Complain

Recently Anne Lamott started something on Facebook. She talked about a friend of hers who struggles with an awful rash and how, when Anne tried to identify with her friend, she couldn't actually possess her own suffering. What I mean is she remarked that she had friends who had cancer and friends who'd lost their home...the "those worse off than me" concept.

Anne opened up her Facebook page to the whiners and complainers...she gave us all free reign to own those things which have been bugging us, weighing us down, tearing us apart. The response was amazing. There was no belittling our own hurts and struggles...there were posts about health issues, loss of jobs, visiting mother in laws, and annoying pets. One lady called her son an "asshat" which made I adored. Another lady of 60+ years had lost her job and threatened the next person who promised her "when God closes a door, He opens a window" that she would respond with "F--- Off." It was beautiful. No one told anyone their problems weren't that bad. No one one-upped anyone else. No one threatened the lady's salvation because she had used the "F Word".

For once we could wail "It's not fair" without the trite responses the world often gives us. Or being made to feel guilty because there are those worse off than us.

Don't get me wrong...I know for a fact that there are people worse off than me. And I'm aware that keeping that in mind is important in keeping my perspective. The danger is that I can be so aware of it that I ignore or refuse to acknowledge my own suffering.

When I was a little girl living with my Grandma, she had a strategy. Every time I started feeling sorry for myself, she gave me my scrap book and the collection of Macon Telegraph newspapers waiting to be delivered to recycling. My job was to find stories of children that were worse off than me and put them in my scrap book. There were stories of children fleeing their homes from war torn countries, children whose homes had been lost in fires, stories of children who'd been abused far worse than me. There was actually a story from an article about play therapy...I figured any girl who put the doll family in the oven must be worse off than me.

I needed that perspective. I was admittedly a brat who needed to know how good I had it. But I also needed permission to say that I'd been hurt, that life wasn't fair, and that bad things had happened. I learned to not talk about feeling bad so that I wouldn't have to break out the scrap book and that habit continued until as a young adult I began struggling with depression so bad I couldn't get out of bed and attempted suicide twice.

Why we need permission to own our pain and struggles I don't know...but we do. Especially as Christians. We are told we have to be joyful and God makes all things beautiful...and all things work together for the good of those who love Him...and that is all true. But no where does it say, so stop your whining. In fact, David was well known for going to God and being honest with his struggles. It makes up the entire book of Psalms. And yes, we will always be able to find those who have it worse. But a therapist gave me this example: If your child comes in and they've scraped their knee and it's all torn up and bleeding and the child is crying, you go to that child and you kiss and comfort and get the antibiotic cream and the band aid. In the midst of that, your other child comes in and has broken their leg...well, obviously the broken leg needs immediate attention and therefore becomes the priority. But that doesn't mean we look at the child with the gashed leg and tell them their leg no longer hurts because the other child is hurt worse.

And when someone owns their pain, be okay with not having the answers. Be okay with just listening. Say "I'm sorry for your pain" but don't try to be logical with it. Sometimes there is no "why"! Job's friends sit with him for two weeks without speaking and offering comfort. As soon as they open their mouth, they mess it up. They try to explain why these bad things must be happening and all they do is cause hurt. God finally shows up and never gives the "why" but the comfort that He is God, He has not lost control, and He knows that Job is suffering. And Job is content with that. One thing I noticed in the Facebook thread is how much dangerous pat answers, cliches, and attempts to answer the why had hurt others.

When my Grandma died from cancer, I was destroyed. My grief went beyond tears. And I was God...because I couldn't figure out who else to be angry at for the loss of someone who loved me so much. And someone, a well meaning someone, came up to me and told me God needed good biscuits in heaven and so He had to take my Grandma. I decided then and there God must be a selfish, mean God and I wanted no part of Him. And I kept that promise for years. Until I was 16 years old, I wanted nothing to do with God because He seemed random and cruel. And as illogical as it was, part of my theory included the fact He had taken my Grandma from me because He couldn't make biscuits.

Here's the thing, I think it is time we allow ourselves the right to go to God and trusted friends with our hurts, fears, and pain. I think we have the kind of relationship with God where we can trust that He is good and faithful while at the same time telling him this and that suck and we cannot for the life of us figure out why it has to be this way. I think we find friends who can say "you are right, that does suck and there isn't anything I can do about it but love you through it" I think it is time that we are those friends. I think in doing so, we learn more about loving others and about empathy. I think we become stronger and that we build stronger relationships. I'm not advocating one continuous pity party. At the end of the day, despite the fact it sucks, you still have to make the best of it. But there's a difference in stuffing or ignoring problems and persevering through them. And I think perseverance means recognizing the issues not turning a blind eye.

So, I'm no Anne Lamott, but I'm fire away!

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