Today I received an education, and I’m sitting inside a tiny shame storm. Here’s what happened.
One of my good friends updated her Facebook status to speak out against memes that claim hardships make us stronger. She disagreed, and took issue with this statement.
I have a strong opinion on this, and it’s taken years to feel this strongly about it. I read her statement, and I thought of the hardships I’ve gone through. I thought about the years I stayed in an abusive marriage. I thought about the day I found out that my 7 month pregnancy was about to end in stillbirth because my baby had died. I thought about laying on a couch in a dark room, longing for light but unable to see it because I was so far gone in my depression. I remember struggling in poverty, raising kids on my own, withering away at my job, feeling overwhelmed, feeling strangled by jealousy… And then I thought about getting through these hardships and coming to the other side.
“Once I was out of it and had some distance from it, I realized there were bigger picture things that happened because of those struggles,” I wrote to my friend on her status update. “Some things paved the way for better things. Others gave me insight so that I could help someone else struggling through it. ALL of them made me stronger.”
I continued to give carefully-thought-out tips on dealing with grief and how to react, and how hardships really can make you stronger, and so on.
In other words, I was unhelpful.
You see, my friend is going through a very rough patch in her life. She’s recently experienced a few setbacks that have rocked her world and made her question everything she believes in. She’s slowly been withdrawing from activities and organizations that once meant a lot to her. She’s devastated by the way the world is right now, from her personal world to the world as a whole.
The last thing she needed was a lecture.
I posted a 6 paragraph response to what she wrote, trying to help her see that we actually can become stronger from our hardships. I felt compelled to do it, like it was the right thing to do as a Christian, and it was the right thing to do as someone who has overcome struggle and is now on the other side. I shared scripture and the meaning to it, trying to back up my claim. And I told her I believed in her.
I felt pretty good about myself after I posted it, believing I could help her see the light. But then I started to receive feedback.
Now, feedback on the internet is a scary place. I work at a newspaper—I see the comments. People can get downright nasty when they don’t agree with something. But let me tell you something…I was met with disagreement about what I posted, but all disagreeing comments were shared to me with love.
All of them.
“Sometimes the kindest words can feel like a knife wound at the wrong time and it's hard to let the kind intentions of others into our own dark space,” one friend wrote. She reminded me that “listening and caring can sometimes be the same thing.”
And that’s what I forgot.
I was so intent on sharing what I’d learned, to offer my experiences and insight, I completely forgot that this isn’t about MY experience. It’s true that we go through hard things, and then we learn something deeper about ourselves. We may even learn some of the secrets to life, and we want to shout it from the rooftops. But there are times when saying nothing is actually better than saying something.
Sometimes saying “me too” or “I’m so sorry you’re hurting right now” or “I care about you” are better than trying to solve the problem. Sometimes just showing up and listening is better than anything else you can do. Sometimes it’s better to save that 6 paragraph post for your private journal, and offer unconditional support instead.
Finally, as I said earlier, it took YEARS to get to where I am on hardships and strength. It also took years to get on the other side of depression, a disease that sucked the life out of me. If someone had come to me during that time to tell me about hope, and that our hardships make us stronger, I would have stopped talking to them. I am lucky that this friend, and a few others, were gentle in correcting me. I don’t know if I could have had that much grace.
These were the lessons I learned from this.
First, put myself in the other person’s shoes completely before I try to “educate” them.
Second, the world would be a much better place if we all took the time to have a civilized and gentle conversation with the people we disagree with, aiming to offer a new perspective instead of shame.
Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions. Proverbs 18:2
When others are happy, be happy with them, and when they are sad, be sad. Romans 12:15