“Relationships are messy.”
These were the words my therapist shared with me years ago.
Actually, no. It’s never going to be necessary for this non-math girl to know that. Ever.
At the time, I was suffering from a terrible and shame-filled end to my engagement. I was also trying to navigate friendships, family dynamics, and my own relationship with Jesus.
These words were so helpful to me. Up to that point, I guess I was living under the Enemy’s lie that Christians weren’t really supposed to struggle in these areas. Now, I don’t really know why I thought this because the Bible is clearly full of messy relationships. But I did.
Her words gave me freedom to acknowledge my own weaknesses and to recognize and acknowledge the weaknesses in those I held dear and in those who had hurt me.
“She walks in beauty”
That poem by Lord Byron (George Gordon) has stayed with me, not just in my brain but also in my heart, perhaps because I didn’t memorize it for a class but rather had it seep into my spirit like a linguistic soaker hose from reading and rereading it over all my college years when I first stumbled on those captivating words.
What was she like, this woman who inspired the poem?
She comes to mind as grace and goodness with an almost ethereal quality, like the personification of the North Star in the movie adaptation of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in the Narnia series.
Is she even real, this subject of Lord Byron’s admiration, or is he merely musing over what the ideal woman is?
As the years pass and experiences deepen the rivers of my soul and my eyes see layers beneath what people clean up and show to the world, this woman looks different to me.
How can you help others?
I don’t have to remind any of us that our hearts are being pummeled daily by this world and the people in it. Tornadoes, Amber Alerts, missile threats, suicides, cancer. Those are large-scale, but even the smaller scale assaults affect us. There is no shortage of Insta comparisons, hurt feelings, and rejected relationships.
And don’t even get me started on the madness of all that Twitter hate.
Anxiety and depression are skyrocketing among our kids. Women are hurting from their own wounds and from the wounds of their kids.
So how are we to help others? And how are we to help ourselves?
How are we to navigate messy families, messy friendships, and messy marriages?
‘Consider my servant Job’
I’d love for you to step way back in time and look at our man, Job. His story is an excellent character study in this area of HELP.
Just as a recap, here’s what we know about Job: He was blameless, a man of complete integrity. He stayed away from evil. He was ethical. He was wealthy. He was respected.
He was married with ten kids; they were a delight to Job and to those around them. They were hospitable and they loved each other. Job loved them fiercely. They were a true model of faith and happiness.
In case you missed it, Job was LEGIT!
All of us would have followed him and liked everything he posted on social media.
The next part of his story is harder to read.
Responding to tragedy
The Lord allowed Satan to step in to destroy just about everything Job owned and everyone he loved and to pummel Job with disease, ridicule, and shame.
Job is battered with tragedy. His heart is broken. His grief immeasurable. On his worst day, he can barely catch his breath before more bad news invades his heart.
And maybe this is where you can finally relate to Job.
You were caught off guard with a diagnosis or a fear of diagnosis; you didn’t hear the heartbeat at the last doctor visit; you were paralyzed in shame when your husband left or was caught in a web of porn lies.
Our tragedies may not be quite as personal or intense as Job’s in that one day, but our hearts are pelted more and more and more to where, some days, we just can’t understand it.
I am positive that Job didn’t understand it either, but he responded in grief without blaming God for anything. His faith remained strong in God, and yet his emotional health was cratering.
Have you been there?
Where your relationship with the Lord is intact but you are hurting and emotionally fractured?
Maybe you’re the opposite and your relationship with the Lord did fracture because of hurt, disappointment, or injustice?
How not to help
If we keep looking into the life of Job, we find that his wife offered her own faulty version of help: curse God. Yikes—sounds harsh. My guess is that she was dealing with unspeakable grief and simply reacted out of her pain.
On the other end of the spectrum, Job’s friends showed up and offered immediate help by their physical presence. They just sat with him. It was only when they began to speak that their help turned harmful.
They declared surely this was punishment from the Lord due to some sinful behavior. It never once occurred to them (or to Job) that all this affliction was allowed by God because of Job’s “righteous” behavior. The Lord had such faith in Job that he let Satan attack. He knew in the end that he would get the glory because of Job’s faithfulness.
You and I have friends who sometimes exude helpful words and actions—and sometimes not. What do we need to be mindful of when examining these areas of help?
Keep in mind: sometimes you are in a better place of extending help and sometimes you are in a place of needing help.
The best way to help
Ultimately, Jesus is our only source of real help.
We have a God who loves us so much that he has given us himself as our Helper. The meeting of our every need comes from him. Our every ounce of healing comes from him. Our every bit of joy comes from him. Our every source of comfort comes from him.
Having walked with many people through painful moments in life, I know that, for many of us, those words are comforting and ring true, even though we may have doubted it at times.
But I also know that, for some of us, those words are met with skepticism. That’s OK. I like that we have a God who cares for us in such a way that he allows us to work through those feelings.
And, because we weren’t just created as spiritual beings, I love the fact that he understands our emotional, physical, and relational needs and struggles. He is there to help us in the struggle. First Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Psalm 34:17–18 says, “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
So, how do we take care of ourselves when we recognize that we need help?
- Remember that our identity is in Christ. Recognize and reject lies that the enemy wants us to believe about ourselves and train our thoughts to line up with what God has already said about us.
- Slow down. Be still. Breathe deeply. Be mindful of feelings. Develop an emotional vocabulary.
- Engage in community. Find a church and plug in to a small group of believers. Be brave and share your feelings or struggles with someone you trust. Oftentimes, just bringing it into the light brings relief.
- Take an “electronics fast” so that you are not overstimulated and bombarded with the world’s chaos and brokenness 24/7.
- Seek a counselor. Ask the Lord for direction, but also don’t be afraid to change if it isn’t a good fit. Recognize that you cannot change the past, but counseling can help change your perspective and free you from the burdens of guilt, shame, and worry so that you can move forward in freedom.
And then here are a few ways to help others:
- Show up. Listen. Ask questions. Refrain from offering a quick fix or solution. Grow in your understanding of her struggle or pain. Remember, her pain is not there for you to feel good about doing good or saying the right thing.
- Be careful of expressing that you may know what she is experiencing or feeling. A better approach is to simply say, “I love you, “ or “I am sorry. I can only imagine how you are feeling.”
- Be careful of minimizing or invalidating someone’s pain. Often, when a person’s experience of real pain is invalidated, then she is not pointed to Christ for hope and help. The gospel is alive and available for transformation in all areas of emotional health.
- Practice empathy which fuels connection.
Relationships may be messy. But aren’t we thankful for a God who leans into our mess?
He loves us. He cares for us. He will provide help in our time of need.
Listen to this week’s episode of Pardon the Mess with Paige and Rebecca Leonard here!