I am a helper. And I often run the risk of helping too much. I want to solve things. When someone comes to me with a problem, I always want to leave them with a solution. That is both a good trait and a deep character flaw. I am reminded of a friend of mine once quoting an aphorism for which he did not know the author, but the wisdom in it merits mention even if without credit. “Weakness is merely strength in excess.”
It’s another way of saying that you can definitely have too much of a good thing. At which point it becomes a bad thing, a weakness. My desire to help people sometimes, in the past especially, has made my strength into a weakness, or at least a vulnerability. I am less easily taken advantage of now. Those lessons were learned at a price.
But my desire to help remains. My desire to fix it all still ticks away in the back of my mind. I have been lucky though to have had some good teachers. They explained to me that it is not my job as a minister to fix things, but to bear witness to their brokenness.
That was a tough one for me at first. I hate to think that I am stereotypically male, but in that regard, the need to solve and fix, I am firmly in that lane.
But it also represents an easier way of being a part of the solution than my method of trying to fix something that will likely fix on its own anyway if given the right space to do so. Why tell a plant how to grow? Or dictate to a wound how it should heal? Our role as humans is to facilitate growth and healing by preparing the perfect environment for it to occur thus allowing the process to naturally unfold without inhibition. The doctor never heals, they give the patient all the tools necessary to heal themselves.
So, recognizing that our job is not to fix but to simply provide the most healing environment possible, it makes me think on how to heal the wounds from this current experience even while those wounds are still taking place. Is there someway to get ahead of the grief curve and prepare ourselves for the future? This is all such heavy stuff right now.
A large part of our traditional grieving process has been left to the side during this pandemic. We have not been permitted to grieve together. We have not been given the opportunity to hear the stories. We have not been given the opportunity to bear witness or be a witnesses for others.
That is a fact which will haunt us. That will be a grief that sits under the skin.
But we may be a balm to that grief, even while it’s still occurring. And we may be of service to the future by simply participating in the process of witnessing and bearing witness to others.
We need to remember that each of us needs to be seen, our experiences validated, our stories taught and heard. Likewise others need platforms to express what they have been feeling. They will need witnesses.
Participate in online social media groups that are specifically about having opportunities to express yourself in a loving, supportive environment. Check in with friends. Make sure you tell your stories too.
Perhaps most importantly, we need to pay attention right now. We need to notice everything that’s going on and register it. We need to be witnesses for history so that our future selves more quickly learn from what we have been so slow to acknowledge. This is a part of the healing process too.
This advice is often given but rarely taken. But find a way to do it anyway, for the advice is sound. Write it down. Write down your experiences. The process of having to find the right words to describe our experience triggers the parts of our brain which unleash healing. The process grants a perspective on all that’s occurred. And it reveals to you just how it has made you feel. Until you take the time to express it, you won’t realize the true depth of your feeling. And therefore you will not know how deeply the wound goes.
Take the time to listen to your kids. Even if you think it’s nonsense or if they frustrate you beyond reason, read between the lines. Validate their experiences and sympathize with them. Most of us are acting out in some way right now, so fatigued we are at this whole thing and just wanting it to be over. I have certainly been doing my extra credit share of eating and drinking. There is no age range to stress or fear. Give kids the space to process what’s going on by simply having the freedom to talk about it.
It’s worth noting that not all kids are comfortable talking with their parents about their feelings. I’ve worked with enough teenagers to know it’s a thing. A mentor or an extended relative or a family friend is often the safer ear. Don’t take it personally if you’re not the ear. Just make sure they have one.
Try not to forget that right now everyone has a story they need to tell. In giving other people the opportunity to share their‘s, be sure to include space for your own. The more deeply we reach out toward our neighbor, not to solve or fix but to merely listen and be listened to, the faster we will get to the next blessed place on this journey.
In the Book of Job, Job’s friends came to be a witness to his extraordinary grief. And while eventually they had much to say, that wasn’t so at first. For days they just sat with their friend and listened. They put soot on their heads and ripped their clothing and just stayed there with him in silence and grieved with him those first days and nights. Love often requires only a small amount of effort to embody itself in the grandest of ways.
Be a witness to this time. Bear witness to others. Listen to the stories. See others. React with positivity and words of encouragement online. Place yourself in the path of receiving the same. You are human too.