We had friends to dinner last week who we haven’t seen in a few years. Caregiver shortages, then a pandemic, our caregiving lifestyle, and, most recently, Carly’s health and anxiety issues have generally made socializing difficult.
Our friends had a lot of questions. They so kindly asked, “how are you doing?” and “how is your marriage?” with heartfelt interest and prayerful concern. We greatly appreciated the questions and conversation. But these kinds of conversations also come with some dread for us.
Anyone who has lived through prolonged suffering will understand that it can be hard to navigate “catching up with friends.” Through my own personal experience and in hearing from so many others over the years, these are some of the thoughts a caregiver has when sharing about their lives with others:
- Do I sound like a broken record?
- Am I going to scare them off?
- Will they feel hesitant to share about their own lives because of the magnitude of ours?
- How much sharing is too much? How much is enough?
- How do I answer authentically about the challenges without descending into that “woe is me” tone or mindset?
- Where is the balance in sharing about life’s joys and sorrows?
- The answers are so complicated. How do I abbreviate? (We could be here all night!)
- How do I reconcile my appreciation that someone cares to ask questions with the exhaustion I feel in trying to answer them?
- How do I keep from feeling defensive or judged, at times?
- How do I share about Carly in ways that show her respect and appropriate privacy?
- How do we have these conversations in front of Carly (because, by nature of her need for our supervision and care, she’s usually right there among us) without causing her anxiety? (She doesn’t necessarily understand all that we are talking about, but she fully recognizes that we are talking a lot about her.)
There is so much more. But you get the idea.
This recent gathering also reminded me that I often misunderstand people’s questions. For example, my friend asked, “do you guys have any support?” I interpreted the question to mean he was concerned about our having people to talk to who understand our situation (aka a support group). Later, I realized this question was more about what resources and help we get in caring for Carly.
I watched The Bible Project video summarizing the book of Lamentations this morning. (I just love their videos, by the way! If you’re looking for a fantastic and relatively quick way to get more familiar with the Bible, check them out on YouTube.) The video revealed to me that there is really one question that supersedes all the rest:
How do I give “sacred dignity” to my suffering?
I can’t offer specific answers to all of the questions I listed earlier. But I can offer some biblical perspective on how we might respond to this one.
- Before meeting with a friend, talk to Jesus as your best friend. Get out a prayer journal (or piece of paper) and spend 10-15 minutes in reflection. Make three lists: the emotions on your heart this week, the details of what is challenging you in this week/season, reasons you are grateful today.
- Give basic facts. Friends will ask follow up questions when they want more details or have time for them.
- Learn “scripts” that communicate your needs for friends. Helpful make statements might include:
- “I’m emotional about this today. Can we talk about it another time?”
- “It means a lot to me that you ask me questions about my child. And I want to help you understand. But the answers to the questions you’re asking are complicated. I don’t have have energy for this today. Please ask me again another time.”
- “You are so kind to offer help. There are probably many different ways I could use help. It is hard for me to see the forest through the trees though and awkward to be a receiver. What kinds of things do you enjoy doing around your own house? Maybe you could come do something like that at my house some time.”
- “I’m really needing some help but I’m too overwhelmed to have a strategy. Could you help me make a list of ways people might be able to support us and then help me communicate those things more comfortably for everyone?”
- “You have so many very good ideas and I appreciate your caring. We have been trying all of these things for a very long time/years. Please keep praying for us that solutions will be clearer and healing comes soon.”
- “I hope you won’t mind but we need to pause this conversation until we have more privacy. It makes my child and/or his/her siblings uncomfortable when we talk about him/her or his/her situation.”
- Point out that the situation is an emotional one. Certain times are better than others to talk about it. Learn your boundaries and how to announce them with grace and respect.
- Confess ways you struggle with sin. Scripture promises healing when we confess our sins to one another.
- Talk about the questions, confusion or anger you have with God. Share your own experience and invite others to share theirs.
- Express appreciation for the questions and concerns others voice.
- Share an example of how something from scripture has given you hope, help, or insight recently.
- Ask others: Has there ever been a time when you felt like you were at your wits end?
- Invite others to share how some difficulty in life has helped them grow in faith.
- Offer a prayer together that gives thanks to God for His faithfulness and also holds everyone’s suffering before God who sees, hears, knows, cares, and offers eternal promises.
I cannot overstate the power of prayer when discussing our children (or other loved ones facing difficulties) and our own challenging lives with others. Whether we pray out loud as part of a gathering or pray silently throughout the process of a conversation, our attentiveness to the Holy Spirit promises to be a source of strength and guidance.
The Holy Spirit will give you the words to say at the moment when you need them.
Prayers don’t have to be elaborate or even well-articulated. In our case with friends the other night, my husband’s brief dinner prayer acknowledged our gratitude for friends and the faithfulness of God to see us all through the joys and struggles of our lives. God’s presence was brought beautifully to our attention in that brief moment. It flavored and focused our conversation for the rest of a lovely evening.
And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.
2 Corinthians 1:11