Yesterday morning I really wanted to post the following status on Facebook: Today stinks, just in case you were wondering. I didn’t post anything because I didn’t want a positive reaction from anyone. I wanted to be miserable, and I wanted someone to know I was miserable, but I didn’t want or need anyone to try to cheer me up. Since a cheerful comment would have only irritated me, and I didn’t want to think bad thoughts about any of my friends, I decided I should keep my post to myself.
If you have a single bit of empathy, you don’t want your friends to be miserable or hurt; your first reaction is often to cheer them up or try to encourage them out of their funk. I’d say most of the time this is a great thing, but maybe we should allow just a little bit of funk sometimes. We mean well, but there are times when people need to feel sad or pained or other than positive. We need to allow each other the space to feel what we’re dealing with without pushing the person to feel something else instead. For instance, I needed to be sad yesterday – I needed to cry or howl at the moon or scream or break dishes without anyone telling me to feel better. It has barely been a week since the pregnancy loss; I think I am understandably negative about the situation. I will not be sad forever, and if I’m sad and depressed for more than a few weeks, I trust that someone will encourage me (you may read “encourage me” as “kick my butt” if your name is Melissa) to move on.
While it is true that as Christians we should give thanks and find joy in every circumstance, I would encourage you to never, ever tell that to someone who has just lost a loved one or experienced a personal trauma of some sort. It is acceptable and normal to feel negative emotions, and you must allow yourself and other people to feel them. It is not normal or even healthy to only feel happiness. If your friend is a sincere follower of Christ, they have not forgotten that they have the deep and abiding joy and peace of Christ in every season of life. Reminding them in the face of their loss that they should feel joy and give thanks will probably feel like a slap to the face of their grief. Wait for them to experience the loss and then pull them gently back to joy if they haven’t already found it. Sometimes you need some space to gain the perspective that allows you to see the joy in a devastating circumstance.
Our Sunday school class must share a joy each week with the rest of the class. I love this exercise because it “forces” us to consider the week and find something good that came out of it. I don’t think anyone expected for me to have a joy to share last week, but I have been able to experience true friendship in so many ways over the last two weeks that I give thanks for my friends. I hope that as I continue to move past this recent loss that I will find more joy and more reasons to thank God. That is the deep love of Christ working in me, because I alone would not be able to thank God for anything related to another miscarriage.
If you have a friend experiencing loss or frustration of some kind, I encourage you to consider your responses. If they are acting out of line (for instance, I am a jerk when I’m upset and tend to snap at others), gently call their attention to the bad behavior. If they are just experiencing a normal emotion related to the loss, express your sympathy and offer your support without telling them to buck up, cheer up, find the bright side, or anything related to bootstraps. You don’t mean it, but by telling your friend to change their feelings, what you are telling that person is that the negative emotion is not acceptable or appropriate. Allow your friend to feel whatever they feel, no matter how ridiculous you may think it is. Once they stop making forward progress or can’t work through the depression, then encourage them to find some professional help or change their outlook. I cannot express how invaluable is the friend who can accept you as you are; those are the friends that you will listen to when you need your butt to be kicked. If you want a friend like that, be a friend like that. And carefully choose when to cheer and when not to cheer.