Ever noticed how people react to you when you're going through any type of suffering? A friend of mine who also struggled with infertility for years once told me she wanted to write an entire BOOK about the stupid things people had said to her over the years in the hopes of "comforting" her. I'm sure it's the same across the board, whether you're facing grief or health issues or financial stress or singleness or you-name-it... people just say the funniest things!
Not only did Marc & I find this to be true throughout our years of infertility, but now we are facing a different type of struggle and yet the reactions we get are pretty similar. Many of you know that our almost 2-yr. old daughter's hair is falling out (it started in November and is continuing each day), and though we know what it MIGHT be, (there are two working options we're going on right now) it remains mostly a mystery. Up until now, I have remained mostly silent on this blog about the painful emotions that this has caused me & Marc. I think that's mostly because I don't want to expend the energy required to adequately put into words how heart-breaking it is to watch your own child "worsen" before your very eyes each day. Even though this girl is a healthy, energetic, talking-a-mile-a-minute toddler, her appearance is beginning to look more and more unhealthy as she's now losing eyelashes and eyebrows. And there's nothing I can do to stop it. Sometimes it just takes everything in me to not give in to the worry & fear that wants to wash over me. (But that's another post for another time...)
So last night Marc and I got to laughing about the funny things people say in response to our situation, and how many of the responses fit into seven categories that I thought it'd be fun to share here. (Don't worry if you've found yourself using them-- I'm sure I've used them all before myself!)
And let me emphasize that I KNOW people mean well. They really do. Very few people are out to be hurtful or insensitive. Nevertheless, just for fun, see if you've heard any of these before...
1. The "it'll happen" response- When it was infertility, the "it'll happen" response was "you'll be pregnant someday" and now with Caroline's hair loss, it comes out as "oh, don't worry. it'll grow back." If you're single, all the married people like to say to you, "It'll happen someday."
What they're thinking: They want to be reassuring, right? People just don't want you worrying unnecessarily.
What I'm thinking: While it's a nice thing to say & I'm sure in many cases, it ends up actually being true (well, except in the case of my pregnancy... ha!), it somehow doesn't comfort me. How do YOU know "it'll happen"? And what if it doesn't? And are you just trying to say something to stop us from talking about it?
2. The "I have a friend" response- Okay, here's the situation... you've just POURED out your situation to someone, and the first thing out of their mouth goes something like, "Oh, there was a girl in my church who had that..." and then they continue to recount what happened to their friend-of-a-friend's-cousin's-brother. You try your best to listen politely and decipher what it really is that they're trying to say that applies to what you just told them. (please note that this response can also include "I saw a show once about that.") Throughout our infertility, here's what we heard: "just go try to adopt and THEN you'll become pregnant! That happened to so-and-so..."
What they're thinking: I understand this one, and in certain cases, it CAN be helpful. You're trying to tell me that I'm not strange or that this situation isn't totally foreign and unique. You're trying to telling me that I'm not alone, or that you've had some "experience" with this, or that you understand. Those are great things.
What I'm thinking: Many times when I hear this response immediately after telling you something, I don't feel like you even HEARD me. More than just swapping stories, I want to know that you grasp how I'm feeling through this. At least give me a "hmmm" or a genuine "oh, I'm so sorry" before I need to hear about someone else's experience, right?
3. The "God" response- I'll just lump all the responses that include God in it into this category. This response is a popular one, particularly when you're around evangelical circles like I am. Whether it's good & helpful things like "God is in control" or a nice card with an appropriate Scripture verse on it, or some more questionable things like "you just need to have more faith," this type of response seems to be everywhere. And this one's tricky because whether it's helpful or not many times even depends on who it's coming from, what their "tone" is, and what they actually say about God. I will say that one of the most comforting things that was said to me when Caroline started losing her hair was a "God response." This person connected something we always say at our church (from the Bible) with my particular situation and it was something that I take rest in: "Not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven."
What they're thinking: As a believer, it's definitely important that we keep preaching the Gospel to each other in times of trial. Aren't we all (if we're really honest) just so "prone to wander" and "prone to leave the God we love" that we need to be bathed in God's word to remember what is TRUE when times get tough. It is usually from that motivation that people speak about the Lord. (I hope, at least!)
What I'm thinking: BUT! As someone who loves Jesus and already knows that God is in control, when your first response to me is to say "God is in control, Amy!," it feels more like you're just stating the obvious, you know? (as if I'd say- Oh! God is in control?? Really?? Huh! I've never THOUGHT of that!) :) Plus, in the book of Job, Job's friends used the "God" response all throughout the book, and at the end, God Himself was really mad at them! So I'm saying let's just be a little more sensitive and wise about when it's best to use the "God" response.
4. The "you should try..." response: Oh, this one is hilarious when you're dealing with infertility! If only I had a nickel for every time someone used this one! And the things that would come out of people's mouths!
"You need to just relax."
"You and Marc just need to get away."
"You should try standing on your head."
"You just need to _____"
Suddenly, everyone's wanting to invade their way into my bedroom! ha! In Caroline's case, we've already been told to feed her more peanut butter, do scalp massages, use certain vitamins and creams, and more. In a single person's life, the "you should try" response is something like this:
"You just need to lose weight."
"You need to put on some make-up or dress a little nicer."
"You need to be putting yourself more out there."
"You need to get yourself straightened out first before God can bring someone into your life." (that's a blend of the "You should try" and the "God" response...)
What they're thinking: People want to help. I know they do. I appreciate that they want to help you figure out how to fix something.
What I'm thinking: Perhaps what might be a better thing to do is to simply ask questions about what they've tried already, ask what their doctor is saying, ask what their plan is in handling this, etc. You can show alot of concern just by asking questions-- not to be probing and rude, but to see what options the person feels like they have.
5. The shock response: For this response, the person you're talking to usually stops what they're doing, drops their jaw, their eyes get wide, and they say something to the effect of "Oh my gosh, that sounds like leukemia" or "I've never heard of that. That's crazy!"
What they're thinking: They're not thinking- they're gonna give you their honest reaction. They see you freaking out, and by golly, they're gonna freak out with you. :)
What I'm thinking: Stop it! I don't need to freak out more than I already am! :) Thank you.
6. The "it could be worse" response: This one comes in different forms. It could be similar to #2 "I-have-a-friend" response where they launch into something so "obviously" worse than what you're going through. But usually the "it could be worse" response sounds like this:
"It's not that big of a deal."
"It's only cosmetic. It's only hair."
"At least you didn't ever miscarry."
What they're thinking: These people are your good 'ole fashioned optimists. They're gonna find something good about the situation and help you to see it. They want you to think on the bright side. And it's a pretty good tactic most of the time.
What I'm thinking: But you know, as I'm struggling, I'm not always needing to hear what's good about this. Sometimes I just need you to acknowledge that this is real pain and real brokenness. Sometimes I just need to hear you say, "Yeah. That is really hard."
7. The silence response: So alot of us know that people are dealing with things in their life, and yet we either don't know what to say or we're afraid of saying the wrong thing. (especially as you've just read through my rants of what NOT to say! ha ha!) So we're silent about the issue and we say nothing.
What they're thinking: I don't want to stir up any pain in them. Maybe if I ignore it, it can get it off their minds.
What I'm thinking: Maybe you don't care.
A Christian Response: As Marc and I had a good time constructing each of these categories together last night, there was one response to Caroline's hairloss that didn't fit any of these categories, and it has just really stuck with us. (came from my sister and my mom)
"Well, if this continues, we'll ALL just shave our heads and tell everybody that she gets it from her family!"
Funny, right? It's more than that. I think that's exactly the response that Jesus had to our own broken, miserable world.
1. He didn't stand back & offer empty promises: "Oh, it'll happen someday. I know it's messed up now, but someday y'all will get it together."
2. He didn't tell us a story about someone He knew who went through the same thing.
3. Jesus (being God Himself) didn't just stoop down & say, "God is in control, you little world!"
4. What if He had come and said, "Well, you know what you need to try? ____"
5. He wasn't (and isn't) shocked by any of our heinous thoughts and deeds.
6. Jesus doesn't tell me to just focus on the bright side. In fact, without Him, there WAS no bright side.
7. Praise God that He wasn't silent either! No, He loved us way too much to leave us alone.
Instead, Jesus stooped down from heaven, took on a body like ours and became LIKE US. He came to this earth to identify WITH US in our pain. He experienced it just as we do, yet without sin. He JOINED US in our suffering, and suffered the worst death on our behalf so that we might have life.
And I think if He, King over all the universe, could join in our brokenness & pain, certainly we can begin to do the same for others.