It’s OK. It’s not that bad.
It is so much worse for other people.
Everyone has bad stuff happen.
Everyone is counting on me. Suck it up and push through.
These are the phrases I’ve told myself over and over for the past eighteen months.
I won’t bore you with a long list of the big and small things that have happened to us over the past year and a half, but let me just say that being woken up by a tree falling on the roof smack dab in between where my husband and I were sleeping rates about a 4 on the 1 to 10 “Are you kidding?” scale.
I kept working, kept plugging along. I was behind on everything because I would sit down to work or look at my long list of things that needed to be checked off and freeze.
I’d tell myself:
“Just do the next thing!”
“Stop being so lazy.”
“You have a deadline. Just do something.”
And when I would try, in my own careful way, to explain to a group of people I was working with that life has been especially hard over the past year and a half, the response I got was, “Life has been hard for everyone.”
Yep. I agree.
But the not-so-thinly-veiled message was, “Stop complaining and suck it up.”
I finally began seeing a therapist because I had such a hard time functioning. I couldn’t be creative or concentrate, and I didn’t want to hang out with anyone else besides my husband and my dog.
My therapist asked some initial questions, and I responded with “Yeah, this thing happened, but it’s not a big deal.” Or, “Yeah, it was hard for me, but other people have had it so much worse—”
She finally stopped me and asked, “Have you heard of compound trauma?”
I hadn’t. She went on to explain. “Yes, any one of those things on their own may not have sunk you. And you could have recovered. But what it sounds like is that life has been unrelenting, and each of these traumas — and that’s what they are, traumas — has left you without the ability to recover.”
And as soon as I heard this, I, a dedicated non-crier, broke down in a flood of tears.
Yes, other people have had horrible things that have happened to them. And I will mourn with them.
But the magnitude of someone else’s suffering does not lessen my suffering. And until I allow myself to grieve, I cannot recover.
So many of us, especially over the past three years, have been through surprisingly hard things. It doesn’t matter if other people are tougher than you. It doesn’t matter if your friend or your neighbor could handle circumstances better than you could.
We must stop trying to tough it out.
God has made it clear that in order to be there for others, we must allow God to comfort us.
2 Corinthians 1:3–4 (ESV) says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
God’s comfort comes in some surprising, and unexpected ways.
Pay attention to the words from your most tender-hearted friends. My friend Grace, when knowing I was struggling with my young dog’s terminal illness, passed on some wisdom. “My vet told me to tell myself, ‘Yes, they are going to pass. But not today. Today is a good day and we are going to be thankful for the good day today.’”
God comforts us through others who are going through similar circumstances. Thank God for Facebook support groups that have helped me with everything from dealing with my dog’s illness to reassuring me that I can have a safe place to ask questions after a car accident.
God comforts us through other people’s creative acts of kindness. Last week a group of friends sent some snacks (for us and our dog Moose), cards and letters, and a few toys for our animals to play with. A talented friend mailed me a card with a painting of our chicken, Bullwinkle, who had passed away. Recently, an old friend of my mother-in-law posted a picture of Roger’s mom on Facebook. We’d lost Betty last year and the picture was a comfort to Roger as his long grief continues.
Through the Word, prayers, and the love of the people God has surrounded us with, we feel His comfort.
While I and others cannot always be trusted to handle my hurt, God does not judge me for not being tough enough to go it alone. He calls Himself the God of all comfort and He proves that over and over again.