Last week was tough. It was one of those weeks when it felt like every story that was shared with me was a tough one.
To start with, we’re afraid my Mom’s cancer may have come back. Nothing is confirmed, but she’s not been well and the symptoms seem to point back to cancer.
Then, at the beginning of the week, my friend Wes died… and then came back to life. He collapsed and his heart wasn’t beating on its own for over half an hour. Thanks to a quick response from his wife (who gave him CPR for 5 minutes) and a lot of hard work from the EMTs who arrived in the ambulance, he was brought back to us. After a few stressful days in a coma, he’s on the road to recovery.
That story turned back toward hope, but other stories I’m surrounded with are still firmly rooted in pain. Like the friend whose mom is in a psychiatric ward because of severe depression. And some other people very dear to me who are grappling with some of the challenges of parenting teens.
I’ll admit that I had some moments of meltdown in the middle of the week, when I just couldn’t focus on my teaching work because life felt so fleeting and hard.
Mostly, though, I felt grounded and supported. In the middle of the pain, there were some beautiful stories of hope, community, and transformation.
I’ve been through a lot of hard weeks in my life. We all have. One of the things we all know is that sometimes life is a struggle.
After being a student of struggle for a lot of years, here’s what I’ve learned about surviving the hard weeks.
1. Be soft. Let your vulnerabilities show. Find a friend who will honour your tears. Don’t try to be a hero by hiding your hurt. When I was hurting the most, my friend Diane sent me the following quote from Mark Nepo. “One of the most painful barriers we can experience is the sense of isolation that the modern world fosters, which can only be broken by our willingness to be held, by the quiet courage to allow our vulnerabilities to be seen. For as water fills a hole and as light fills the dark, kindness wraps around what is soft, if what is soft can be seen. So admitting what we need , asking for help, letting our softness show— these are prayers without words that friends, strangers, wind and time all wrap themselves around. Allowing ourselves to be held is like returning to the womb.”
2. Be quiet. Find time in the middle of the struggle to sit quietly with yourself and your God. Meditate, pray, go for walks, or just sit and stare at a tree. You are NEVER so busy that you can afford to live without some quiet contemplative time.
3. Show up. When friends are hurting, show up. You don’t have to have the right words, or know just the right thing to do to help them, just show up. You’ll both feel better after some time together. This week was all about showing up for people – walking along the river with a friend, sitting in the hospital waiting room with other friends, playing dominoes with my mom, and having breakfast with a family member. I’m not one of these people who knows just what meals to cook or which groceries to drop off in times of need (I usually serve as delivery person for my husband’s famous pot of chilli when friends are in need of food), but I’m pretty good at listening and just being present. I can tell you from the many times that friends have shown up for me that every person who shows up is valued.
4. Find community and BE community. A remarkable thing happened when Wes’ heart stopped – a powerful community came together to pray for him, to support the family, and to just be present. I looked around the packed waiting room at the intensive care unit and realized that every person in the room was there because they love Wes. I can’t say enough about how valuable it is to be part of community. We need each other! We are not meant to live through our pain alone. We are meant to fill waiting rooms with the people who love us.
5. Be broken. It’s okay – you don’t have to be strong all the time. You can find your strength in other people and in your faith. That doesn’t mean that you’re a weak person. It means that you are a LUCKY person to have the people who’ll surround you and help you walk through the tough spots.
6. Share stories. The world is healed through shared stories. Stories connect us to each other and build bridges across the divides. When we invest in each other’s stories, we invest in each other’s lives. Hearing someone else’s story let’s me know that I am not alone. Sharing a story offers healing for both the listener and the storyteller.
7. Be kind to yourself. Cut yourself some slack if the laundry doesn’t get folded on you’ve ordered take-out for the third night in a row. Go ahead – take a hot bath instead of doing the dishes. If that’s what it takes to get you through, you have to give yourself permission to let go of the expectations you normally place on yourself.