It is my responsibility is to communicate.
I must find words to express my feelings, needs, frustrations, joys and desires. I cannot expect anyone to read my mind or pick up on body language.
When Jesus was asked by a crowd of religious leaders what the most important command was, he said, "Love God with all your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor in the same way you love yourself" (Matthew 22). So love . . . (not making people understand you) is the most important thing.
When I am ill or in pain, it is tempting to blame others or fault them for not understanding what I'm going through. Loving God with my heart, mind and soul means bringing all of who I am into the presence of God and letting Him replace my old ways with his ways so that I reflect his character. Then, loving my neighbor (or husband or kids) would come quite naturally especially if I am loving myself because of the value that God gives me.
It circles around beautifully.
One of the things that I have learned (and am still learning) is to pick words or phrases that mean something to me but are helpful to others without burdening them. Let me explain. When my teenage son walks through the living room, sees me laying down and asks how I'm feeling, he doesn't necessarily want a long, drawn out story. He's kind enough to listen but I don't think he is asking for a lot of details. So I tell him something like this, "Pain is about 6/10 right now so I'm just going rest here for a while. Feel free to watch tv or whatever." It is enough to give him an idea but not burden him or lean on him in an inappropriate way or amount for the moment that it is. I may say more to my husband about it, but sometimes, I just need to rest there without much explaining. Other times, I do want to talk to my husband about it a little more or I may need to excuse myself into my room and close the door.
But as you may well know and have experienced, there are those times when you emerge from a day of pain or a time of recovery and bump into someone at the store. They say, "Hey, what's new? Keeping well?" and you think to yourself, hmm...how am I going to answer that?
So again, let's go back to love. We can echo the prayer of St. Francis and say, "Help me seek to understand rather than be understood". Those grocery store conversations can be difficult. You may feel tempted to convince someone who you've had a very difficult time. You may feel guilty for having been at home for a while. You may want to prove to them how tough it has been. You may see this moment as the chance to validate the many hidden hours and days alone in your suffering. I know those feelings and it is tempting to climb up on the podium and tell the world. But, let me encourage you in this. It is more satisfying to choose an appropriate response to the question and see where it goes from there. The person may just be looking for a quick answer so they can continue talking. If so, don't pour your heart out to them. They are not in the listening zone.
Choose a few responses that answer questions, take care of your own heart, guard the preciousness of what you're going through, but still engage in the conversation in a loving and respectful way.
- Sometimes I say, "my body is hurting, but my heart is pretty happy these days". That usually takes the conversation an interesting direction.
- Or I may say, "do you want a short or long answer?" and smile at them and wait to see how they respond.
Trust your instincts on this one. Some people are great listeners, compassionate and caring and want to know more about you. Others really don't want to know. It is kind of like stepping into a puddle with full scuba gear on. It looks ridiculous and is too much for the shallow or light amount of water. Bare feet are appropriate though and can be a refreshing break. So there is nothing wrong with answering a quick question with a quick answer. If it’s shallow, answer appropriately. Sometimes shallow questions and answers can be refreshing. If you have a good friend who invites you into a deep conversation, then gear up and go in. It will be good for your soul to unload some details and stories. Sometimes, a mentor or counselor, who is willing to ask even deeper questions and dig into the depths of your soul, is part of the refreshment you need. But it is important to not demand that everyone be that kind of person. Love is not demanding.
Small things help too. Like when I'm in mid to high pain and laying in my room. My husband or kids will knock on the door and look in with a question. If I'm really not doing well then I hold up my hand and say, "can't help you" and they know to leave me alone. Or, I motion them to come in and say “what's up?" Nice, clear sentences that tell how I am and give direction to how the others can respond. My husband says he appreciates it if I can boldly say, "I need a Tylenol and water please. " He wants to help but is not sure what I need.
Love God, love others and love ourselves. Simple–and yet it takes work to remember that it is our responsibility to love and communicate and choose words that are clear, informative and most of all grateful. When we are limited in what we can do because of physical strength or abilities, communication is something we can do and take time to figure out new ways. It is worth the effort to love well despite our circumstances.
"Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always “me first,” Doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end."
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (The Message)