Something big is happening in your life. The kind of big that is terrifying, that robs your days of joy and makes you question life in general.
My first reaction is to be as positive as possible. To promise you it will all be ok. To tell you stories of people in similar situations who have come out on the other side of what you are going through and are thriving. My first instinct is to tell you not to give up. To tell you to have faith. To tell you everything happens for a reason.
Then I remember a friend going through a series of challenges who confided in me, “I hate it when people say everything happens for a reason”. She told me it made her crazy to hear this line. I remember struggling to come up with a response to her. Because that was the line I have clung to in all my struggles, the line that brought me hope and helped me persevere. But it was the line she didn’t want to hear. The line that made her hurt that much deeper.
I remember the quote from John Green that says, “So often we try to make other people feel better by minimizing their pain, by telling them that it will get better (which it will) or that there are worse things in the world (which there are). But that’s not what I actually needed. What I actually needed was for someone to tell me that it hurt because it mattered. I have found this very useful to think about over the years, and I find that it is a lot easier and more bearable to be sad when you aren’t constantly berating yourself for being sad.” I remember this quote and think to myself, I want to be the person who gets it. Who knows just the right thing to say to my friend who is in pain.
I have read blog posts and books and seen interviews where people say, ‘When I was in pain, people did ________, and it wasn’t the right thing.’ Or, ‘What I really wanted was someone to _______.’ Every time I read one of these I panic. Did I do one of those things at some point?? Was I the friend who got it all wrong? And I make a mental note to never do XYZ again. And then the next week, someone says, ‘You know, what I really needed was someone to XYZ when I was upset.’
My undergraduate degree is in psychology and I received my graduate degree in counseling. I have spent the last four years of my life with a professional title that proclaims me a counselor. And you know what? I have no idea what the right thing is to say. I kept waiting for it to be revealed in school, “And now, students, we will discuss The Perfect Response To Pain.” But that lecture never came. I never learned the perfect answer. I missed the class on how to be The One Who Knows All the Answers.
But friend, I love you. And I will promise you this: I may make all kinds of mistakes. I may say all the wrong things. I may never learn The Perfect Response. But I am going to be here, and I am going to keep trying. I will ask you what you need from me. I will give you multiple choice options. Do you need me to A) Be there to talk, B) Take you out and get your mind off your pain, C) Leave you alone, D) Some combination of all three, E) Something else entirely, etc.
Please forgive me if I do the wrong thing. You may be going through something I have never gone through. It may be something I will never experience, and I will never know what it is like to be in your shoes, never come within miles of understanding what you are experiencing. It may be something that makes up my very worst fears, and I will look at you and almost break down because I think to myself, ‘how is she doing this? I could NEVER do this’. You may be going through something I have been through and I think I know the Right Answer because I have been there, but the truth is, I know the Right Answer for me. That doesn’t mean it is the Right Answer for you.
Friend, you are going to have to do things alone. Things that I can’t step in to fix for you, to take away the pain. You are going to have to do the hard work. I wish I could take some of it from you, but we both know I can’t do that. I will say, ‘I am here for you.’ But we both know, I am not ‘here’ in the pain of living in your specific circumstance. I can come home at night and my life remains charmed and unchanged while yours is crumbling all around you. But I am going to do my hard work of being there even when its scary, even when I am completely winging it, even when I run the risk of you saying in the future, “You know, I needed more of _______ and less of _______.” I run the risk of saying ALL the wrong things.
But I am standing here watching you do your hard thing. And I am going to do my hard thing, the thing that really pales in comparison to yours. I am going to gladly take the risk of doing everything wrong, in the chance that I might do something exactly right.
I love you friend.