We live in the age of knowledge and information, where it only takes a few clicks and words to either learn about everything going on in the world or to share with hundreds of your friends the awesome breakfast you had after hitting the gym.
On a whole though, we are terrible at communicating. That’s because communicating, actuallycommunicating with another human being, requires something that takes time—listening. We’re quick to respond with our thoughts and witty comebacks, many love to share their wisdom with complete strangers, but many of us fail to sit back and ponder what our fellowman is saying and thus our words often miss the mark.
In many scenarios, we can still manage just fine, but bumps in the conversational road can pop up making things awkward, like when you have to console someone or offer them some encouragement. There’s a reason majority of the population responds with “I’m fine” when asked “how are you?”, no matter what is really going on underneath. It makes sense, we want to avoid confrontation and other unpleasantries, especially in the south where we practically have politeness trademarked.
This habit of keeping conversations on the lighter side of things makes it difficult when the inevitably negative aspects of life step in and you have that unavoidable and awkward conversation with someone. You could be the one going through the rough times, or they could be, either way it’s probably not going to be a smooth conversation. Odds are though, that the two of you are on the same page—whatever happened was not a happy thing; but what do you do when someone you know is going through a rough time but in your eyes it’s a blessing? How do you handle that then?
Several months ago, Colton and I found out that we are embarking on some unknown and frightening territory—neither of us were leaping for joy about it nor was it something we had planned for our future, but knew that it is God’s plan for us. The most stressful aspect of this has not been the situation itself (even though if I was given the option, I’d still vote to go back to my original plans for my life) it has been interacting with those outside of our circumstances, family and friends that we have informed about our situation; Why you ask? Because we’re making a huge sacrifice on our part and everyone else just focuses on the blessing.
Warning, I went from being eleven to 20 without much of a teenage period, so this post may be riddled with some adolescent angst, bear with me.
I dread having conversations on the topic because my view is vastly different from those around me—it’s not their fault entirely, because as I stated earlier, we live in a polite society and so I’m restrained from expressing myself in the blunt manner I can only use with those who know me extensively. I’ve mused on all the phrases said in an attempt to give us encouragement, trying to analyze why they were ineffective. It’s different for everyone, depending on their situation or background, but I wanted to look at phrases and actions that are encouraging and those that aren’t (at least in my opinion).
-Say it’s going to be OK
Yes, ultimately at some point they and their lives will be “OK” again, most people could probably tell you this themselves. So why is this not helpful? Because they have no idea what that “OK” is anymore. Odds are they feel like they’re standing on one side of a canyon and on the other side is OK but they have no idea what’s in between, and that’s scary. They don’t need to be told about the OK, they need support while they’re dealing with the “in between”.
-Or “it’s not a big deal”
You think you’re lightening the load, that expressing your third party view will make things click and suddenly they’ll feel much better. However, your words may invalidate their feelings. This comes from other points in the list, but if you don’t put yourself in their position then you won’t be able to feel the gravity of the situation in their eyes. Do people overreact sometimes? Of course. Do we need to buck it up and move on? Eventually and in most scenarios yes; however take a step back and look at where the person is in their journey before you decide “they need to get over themselves”, because you may do more damage than good.
-Expect/assume they’ll be OK/happy about it next time you talk to them
We had kept our situation a secret for a long time—we still kinda are—but we decided not too long ago to clue in some extended family members. Afterwards, our situation appeared to become a much more freely discussed topic. Whether or not those around us thought this action of including more people meant that we were now as happy about the situation as they are, I don’t know. However, this increased exchange on the topic made me feel that everyone had forgotten how we had felt previously and we now on the same side as them. Am I? No. Lesson? Don’t make any expectations or assumptions about how the person will feel during their process, they already viewed the situation different than you did and are probably having to process it differently so don’t put them on a timeline, let them forge through in their own way and own time.
-Tell them how they’ll feel about it eventually
I’ve had multiple people tell me that in the future I will be happy about our predicament and see it as a blessing just as they do. Odds are I will, but guess what? I might not; or it may take me longer than they are predicting. So what does telling me how I will feel do? Just adds pressure on me when I already have enough on my plate (and makes me resentful that you’re dictating my behavior but that’s more my personality than most people).
-Leave your own emotions at the door
It’s an old adage, put yourself in someone else’s shoes, or as I like to say, “get out of your head.” Everyone you meet, no matter how similar, comes from a different background, different experiences, even different genes. If you are stuck on how you feel about the situation and not listening or focusing on the other person’s view then you aren’t going to comfort them because they’ll know you’re not seeing it from their perspective.
-Really listen and see if they’re looking for someone to fix it or someone to hear them
This is something that, let’s be honest, is a bit of a gender issue. Men’s natural instinct is to jump in and fix things; women want to be heard and know that someone cares. This doesn’t go for everyone or every situation but it should make you stop and listen to how the person is expressing themselves. Do they want someone to show them a solution to their situation or do they just need to get what’s going through their mind out of their system. Personally, the main reason I share something that’s bothering me is I like some reassurance that I’m not crazy for thinking the way that I am—I bet I’m not the only one who needs that. Sometimes all someone needs is a listening ear—your silence could be better than anything you could say but let the person know that you understand them.
–Ask them how they’re feeling and let that dictate how you discuss the situation
You are excited about the new turn of events in someone’s life but know they were not as thrilled about it when they told you the first time? Ask how they are feeling about it before you let your joy overflow. They are going through an incredibly difficult time and your excitement (however innocent) is salt in their wound. Remember what they wanted, their desires/ambitions, before this situation—they probably still have those and are probably having to let them go and drastically change them (we are) and that’s difficult so respect that loss of theirs.
-Know whom you are talking to
The most difficult but most important–but really working to understand and know the person is the best way to be of any good to them in a tough time. I have had several people tell me many of the things above in an attempt to reassure me but only left me frustrated or feeling disrespected. I had a close friend tell me that they understood where I was coming from and that was I going through would be tough but I would get through because that’s what I do. It made me feel better. Were they essentially saying the same thing as everyone else? Probably, but how they said it was better because they know me.
Ultimately, there’s been one phrase that’s been thrown around a lot during this time, and that is that our situation is a blessing. Yes, we know there are probably people all over the world who would love to be in our shoes, but it doesn’t feel like a blessing to us, so constantly reminding us that it is something we already know isn’t helpful. What then would be something applicable to how we’re feeling, our situation, and show support?
You guys are making a huge sacrifice and that is amazing.