I went through a really difficult two year period on the heels of losing my son. I was longing for deep relationships but often chose to suffer alone rather than make people uncomfortable with my grief.
I could see the look on someone’s face shift as they asked me how I was doing. I watched as people avoided eye contact with me so they wouldn’t have to even ask.
I sat quietly and watched as others embraced, thinking I was too far gone to experience the joy of friendship again.
Then there was also the very real reality that I, on occasion, merely assumed that I made people uncomfortable.
Either way, I stopped showing up. I quit interacting and responding. I shut myself off from the community that God had placed around me for such a time as this.
Now, I am not saying that someone who is grieving has to or even wants to talk about their pain all the time, nor am I saying that no one in their life wants to hear about it.
What I am saying is that grief is lonely and hard to navigate. Sometimes it is necessary to let someone talk about their pain for the 100th time.
However, it seems that many times, we cannot allow ourselves to be uncomfortable for even a few moments in order to lead someone else to a place of peace and find understanding in the process.
We were designed for community at our best and most authentic selves, but our natural inclination is bent toward self-preservation, which will always lead to loneliness.
I heard a statistic this weekend that the effect of loneliness on our body is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. If that is not evidence that we were not built to walk through this life alone, I don’t know what is.
On the other side of that coin is the reality that sometimes we end up being the one who is needed.
I also heard a quote this week that said “we are trained in CPR, but we are not trained in grief.” Without training regarding saving a body, we would be paralyzed by fear.
It is understandable that the same is true for the emotional health. Our immediate response to the issues that make us uncomfortable is to shut them out. Again, out of self preservation.
Here’s the truth, though:
1. Leaning in does not mean it will happen to you. I think sometimes without even realizing it we shut down any emotional response to someone’s pain out of fear that somehow that will mean we are next.
2. Turning a blind eye doesn’t make the issue go away. It just makes it one person more lonely for those who are suffering. 7 billion people thinking “I’m only one person, there’s nothing I can do about it” leads to a whole world of no one doing anything.
So, practically speaking, what do we do? The death of a baby is scary. Human trafficking is scary. Abortion is scary. Childhood cancer is scary.
We show up and lean in. We stand strong and firm with someone who may not be able to stand on their own. We listen to the hard story for the 10th time, or bring a meal when we recognize it has been a difficult week.
We volunteer with organizations that are more knowledgeable regarding what needs to be done every day, and offer help where it is needed.
When we choose to see and keep listening, we are telling a broken-hearted person that their pain and healing matters more than our fears.
We were designed for community by the God who created us in His image and who knows we need it as much as we crave it.
Don’t take it lightly that someone has chosen you to be part of theirs.