Sometimes I wonder what we mean when we encourage someone going through tough times to “stay strong.” Or what do we mean when we feel like we have to be strong to help someone get through a trying time?
Do we mean that the person or people going through the trying time should try to keep quiet because we don’t want to be discomfitted by the real difficulty they’re going through? By “strong,” do we mean silent? Uncomplaining?
Maybe we mean ‘keep the faith.’ But if we mean keep the faith when we say “stay strong,” are we implying that we think the trial being experienced is one that could make you doubt your faith? Or that we think the sufferer’s faith is weak and we hope this doesn’t knock it down a lot? Are we telling the sufferer of the trial that we don’t want them to leave the community of faith over this?
I really don’t know what is meant by this phrase.
I ask this because this year has been one where I’ve been told, by others and myself, to “stay strong.” Mostly by myself.
What do I mean when I tell myself to be strong? The same thing as above? Do I want myself to keep quiet, not complain, be on my knees in prayer– not asking of course for relief from the trial but for a lesson I can learn from it (sorry, trying not to roll my eyes at that blathering platitude right now)– or just keep on keeping on and push through until it passes.
Because this will all be for my good.
I’m not rolling my eyes at that, because I do know that’s true. I don’t feel it right now, but that’s okay.
It’s hard to know when it’s okay to open up and lay out how damaged and broken we are by the events of life. We (read that as “I”) don’t want to make people think that we’re doubting our faith; we don’t want people to feel beholden or guilted into offering sympathy and the like; we don’t want to come across as needy.
I don’t want to do any of that. I don’t want to be needy. I don’t want to guilt anyone into feeling sympathy. I don’t want anyone to manipulate anybody into feeling like “Oh, poor Jared. Poor Garretts. Those poor people.”
I don’t need things to change; I don’t need pitying looks; I don’t need a response even. I simply have some things to say, and some damage to get out. Mainly because I think I need the emotional catharsis of the saying of these things.
This year started with a singular, extraordinary miracle. It was a miracle that turned my faith in revelation and the existence of God and the love of my Savior into certainty.
It was also a miracle that had a lot of emotional weight to it. A lot of heart shredding attached to a lost pregnancy and malignant carcinoma and the major surgery needed to remove the tumor and the kidney it was attached to.
Of note: that baby was due in July, most likely.
I spent probably too much time thinking about that last month.
So that’s how 2014 started for us. A pregnancy that was an act of faith, the result being a malignant tumor miraculously found. And a lost pregnancy.
It hurt. And my wife showed incredible might and grace through it. And it was hard.
I knew in my head and on a spiritual level that she would be okay. But my emotional state was raw and slashed. Cancer and I are not on speaking terms– not after all that it has taken from me. Or, I might say that all I have to say to cancer is endless angry swearing.
After the surgery, we waited three months and had a cancer screening. Given cancer’s abominable record with my family, my emotional state (again, remembering that I knew on a spiritual level that all would be well) was gibbering panic as we approached this next screening.
The results came back: she was clear. The panic subsided. For the meantime.
You see, it turns out that my default emotional state is fear of things that I have no control over taking away the blessings and happiness that I have somehow ended up with. I love and am daily grateful that my wife chose, and chooses every day, to work with me to make an amazing relationship. We have phenomenal kids. I love my life. I’m living my greatest dream.
I worry that I’m going to lose it somehow. I think this is probably a normal worry.
But I have to white-knuckle through this stuff. I don’t want to make things harder for my wife– she shouldn’t have to take care of me during times that are hard on her. Now, we did talk about the large amount of money that was involved in her care- and I don’t want her to feel responsible for that. The fact is that medical care costs money. It would cost even more money to try to fight back cancer that had taken deeper hold of her internal organs, so I’ll take it.
So the year went on and we tried to recover from the financial slamming. Some emotional healing happened, although as July rolled around, and I saw it coming, my heart turned to the baby I thought we would be holding. I kept quiet. And I tried to keep quiet and keep it together when people would ask me, totally unknowing, if we were going to try to have another kid. Almost as if to replace the one we lost.
Then I was laid off in mid-July. It came without warning. We have to use COBRA, due to the amount of money we have invested into our current plan, at least through the end of November. This costs a fortune. And I’m frantically looking for a full time position somewhere that will give us benefits quickly– because COBRA for my family costs a fortune. And nothing on the Healthcare Exchange is cheap enough to make up for the amount of cash we ostensibly save by keeping our current coverage through COBRA.
And my right foot is acting up again and I’m limping everywhere I go now.
Then my final grandmother passed away almost two weeks ago. It was expected to be soonish, and I know she’s in a better place but having this come on top of everything else makes me feel a little Job-like. Not to mention I had my first spider bite of my life about two months ago and it took over a month to heal and I kept thinking about flesh-eating bacteria. So sores.
Next, is my roof going to fall in? Nope, but we did have a little bit of flooding earlier. And since I’m venting now, I don’t get why my books aren’t getting any traction with agents or publishing houses. I have studied the craft and have put a lot of work into what I send out. I know it’s good. Not perfect- but in at least one case, pretty dang great.
This year has been tough. And I need to get through it. And I will. And I sometimes think I’m hearing that whisper heard in Carthage Jail. “know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he? Therefore, hold on thy way… Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever.”
But sometimes I need to be a weak complainer. Thanks for listening.
I recently read some books by Dean Hughs about early Nauvoo/Saints and he pointed out that enough time has passed since the Pioneers that we have put them on a pedestal we then compare ourselves too–“Oh, they were so faithful” “Oh, they were willing to give so much” “Oh they were so strong.” But if that were true–if it were so easy for them to do these things, then they would not have sacrificed and they would not have grown. The fact is far more likely that many pioneers were pissed about what happened to them, they questioned themselves, they hated the people in their groups. They moaned and murmured and . . . grew. Since reading that, and really feeling it, I don’t feel so bad about my complaints, and I’m much more patient with other people’s. There is something about being pissed about stuff, and hurt, and angry and “This is not fair!” that is good for us. I’m not sure if that helps at all, but it came to mind when reading your post. As for what I can say–I’m so sorry. Life is so sucky sometimes and counting our blessings doesn’t fully compensate for the pain we feel. You have great perspective and I wish you and your family brighter days ahead. You are in my prayers today, Jared. God bless.
Josi, thank you. The more I really consider and learn about those pioneers, the more impressed I am. I think you’re right- they had to be furious at times, terrified at others, and sometimes just totally downtrodden. To go through such turmoil and to have certainly felt human feelings in reaction, and to have accomplished what they did, is more inspiring than just considering them to be Catholic-style saints.
And thank you for your well-wishes. I know this stuff will pass. But having people in my and our corner makes all the difference.