Whenever people are struggling, it is the nature of other people to try to help. Most of this is very well-intentioned, but I think it has hidden roots: Your suffering makes me uncomfortable, so what can I say or do that will make ME feel your pain less? Think about this. We go to wakes and viewings dreading the moment when we have to face those who have had this loss. We fumble for something to say and walk away, relieved that we have done our duty in comforting the bereaved. We see parents with a desperately ill child and think of all the things we've 'done' that have prevented our having to suffer in such a way and struggle to say something supportive that at its root doesn't give away the fact that we blame the sufferer. And we try to find and give comfort in the idea that there is some mysterious 'big picture' that makes all of that suffering somehow make sense.
In the last three years there are a few phrases that I've come to terms with. Phrases that I know I'm going to keep on hearing no matter what, because our lives are no longer 'normal'. Phrases that I'll continue to dislike but that I've learned to discern the motivations behind. Believe me: I know whether someone is speaking for their comfort or for mine. Each of these phrases, at its heart, has two meanings, and one or both may apply depending on the speaker.
1) "I don't know HOW you do it!" Expressing admiration for someone who is a stress-juggler struggling to keep all the balls in the air means either "You handle all of this with more grace and patience than I ever could" or "Better you than me, sucker!" Either way, it denies the possiblity that my life is littered with dropped balls, and I'll tell you that those 'dropped' problems are the ones that cause me the most stress. It closes the conversation in a profound way. If I'm managing so well that you admire me for it, I don't need any help, right?
2) "Let me know if there is anything I can do." This means what it says, or "I hope you don't remember I said this." It's a kindly meant thought, but I'm already clearly overwhelmed and you've just added more things to my to-do list: Work up the courage and the energy to ask for help, and get organized enough to ask for a specific type of help and figure out if you are the person who could or would supply that need. Great.
3) "There's never a dull moment with you, is there?" Well. This is either commiseration, which I appreciate, or sadism, which I don't. After all, I'm sure that I don't intend my problems to entertain you. And they generally don't entertain ME.
4) "You'll understand the reason for all of this someday." While I understand that this is usually sincerely meant to be comforting, one subtext here is that I can't find the meaning of my life in this world. And it implies a measure of cause-and-effect, which leans toward the idea that bad things can be avoided. Frankly this makes me picture a cosmic domino line-up. It doesn't matter to the last domino in the chain who or what flicked the first domino over. That last domino is still laying flat on the ground and is going to need some help to get back up.
5) "God will never give you more than you can bear." Here's the big one/two on this one: The fact that I find whatever situation I am in unbearable means that my faith is a miserable failure. And it is God Himself who has put me in this unbearable place. I recently read this amazing blog post on the subject: God will give you more than you can handle - I guarantee it. The author makes some enlightening observations.
She contends that it just isn't true. We are frequently faced with the unbearable. Nowhere in the Bible does it imply that we won't be. But she finds this, instead:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me…for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11: 28-30)
Life can be unbearable. God doesn't lay these burdens on us, generations of sin and separation from the love of God and the choices we and others make get us where we are. A yoke is a device to spread the weight of a load from one beast of burden to two or more. Jesus is offering to help bear the unbearable. In a spiritual sense it is a very calming thought. In the physical sense, though, what does it mean?
"God has no hands but our hands."
God calls us to "bear one anothers' burdens." Our words can be intended to be kind, but our actions speak so much less ambiguously. We are no longer in a place where we need someone to bring us dinner, give us money, send a tangible reminder that we are being prayed for or loan us a car. But when we WERE in that place, people did those very things. Over and over and over again. God DID give us more than we could bear. And His people yoked up and helped us bear it.
No one walks up to someone who is about to drop one of many shopping packages and says, "Dude - you are carrying WAY too much stuff!" and walks away. We either completely ignore the impending disaster or we say, "Let me carry some of that for you."
Here, let me carry that.