it’s not just you

I do some really random things. Too many to list, but here’s an example. 

When I’m pouring a drink, filling a pot with water, or even emptying a new bag of rice into the Tupperware I count. “Pouring ..1, 2, 3, 4 … done.” I don’t have a reason for counting. I do nothing with the number I reach, I just count. 

I don’t know why. 

One day I was talking with my Dad and he just happened to mention that he did exactly the same thing!! We were both incredulous! “You too? I was sure I was the only one!”

We proceeded to share all the different places and times we do this and laughed as we tried to work out together why! (No logical conclusion was reached.)

The power of the “you too?” moment is awesome. In funny, random things like this example it creates a fun and friendly link between two people (I often stop mid-counting now to think “ha, Dad would do this too”). In more weighty or life-impacting issues the power of that is exponentially greater. 

The divorcee, the abuse victim, the fired worker, the tired parents of toddlers, the grieving spouse, the carer for an elderly relative, the gender-excluded, the shift worker, the insecure or intimidated, the abandoned child, the heart-broken, the lonely person, the socially excluded, or the financially challenged often experience exacerbated levels of grief or struggle because of the perception that they are the only one feeling or experiencing their particular circumstances. When in reality, there’s unlikely to be many experiences known to humankind that aren’t also encountered by others – sometimes many others …sometimes even most. 

It’s probably not just you. 

The issue with this is that on top of the struggle of whatever it is we’re facing we add an often unnecessary sense of isolation that brings with it an increased emotional cost to process our way through to wellbeing. The language of this looks something like “everyone else is …”, “no one else has to…”, “I’m the only one who …”It’s harder for me because…” or “it’s easier for them because …” Sound familiar?

So what can we do?

  • Share your experience. Not only might you find someone else who can relate but you might be that person to another. The more I share of my own life and my own challenges the more “you too?” connections I make. For example, EVERY time I’ve mentioned my own experience of miscarriage I’ve found a “you too?” person in the group. 
  • Save your emotional energy for the real stuff without adding (most probably untrue) emotional baggage to your journey. When you’re struggling through a challenge or experiencing a difficulty – devote your heart energy to finding a way to cope and thrive. Don’t add the burden of self-imposed aloneness or isolation to the list of things you’re carrying. 
  • Change your language. I am 150% more prone to exaggeration than the average person. 😉 But in emotionally intense situations we are easily drawn to using exaggeration and over-statement to try and garner the depth of sympathy and response our hearts are looking for. “Never”, “always”, “everyone” and “no one” are rarely accurate statements (like, really, have you polled everyone?!). Yeah. Stop that. 
  • Check your self-talk. The things we say out loud are at least able to be challenged by more emotionally sober and objective people. What you say to yourself is incredibly powerful and largely unknown to those around you. Take responsibility for your thought life and the kinds of things you accept about yourself from yourself. 
  • Acknowledge the equation. While each of our circumstances may not be unique in and of themselves, the combination of them in our own lives – plus our personality – plus our life stage – plus our faith – plus our family dynamic – plus our place in the situation (etc etc) -combine to determine its impact on us and our response to it. The “me too” response ought to bring connection not a sense of being dismissed. 

“12 thoughts of Christmas” #6: Things are Different Now

Like millions of others, my heart has broken watching the news reports and hearing the stories out of the horrific school shooting in Connecticut, USA. Amongst many other things I’ve processed in the wake of this tragic event, I have found myself thinking about what Christmas will look like for those families. My heart and mind can’t really wrap themselves around all that would be impacted by such trauma and such intense grief and loss.

The reality for many families is that Christmas could look a lot different for you this year than it did last year. You may have moved house or town. You might have experienced loss through the death of a family member or friend. You might have aged parents who are now in care, a sick loved one who is hospital bound, relatives that are overseas or interstate, a relationship that has ended. So much could be different about this Christmas – and if that’s the case for you, it’s a good idea to identify that and process it in intentional and inclusive ways.

People will react to change in a whole raft of different ways. It depends on personality, resilience, emotional maturity, levels of support (perceived or real) and all manner of other factors. Children will also react to change in unique ways but are often impeded in their processing by their capacity to identify and articulate emotions, feelings, fears or thoughts. Some suggestions for self-reflection and/or discussion.

  • Consider what has changed in your family since last Christmas and acknowledge that together. Even if something changed 11 ½ months ago, it may still alter the landscape of your Christmas gathering.
  • Discuss the part that person or situation played in the way you celebrated Christmas last year. Perhaps you had cousins spend the day with you that are now living interstate and won’t be here. Or maybe you lived in a different house that lent itself to certain decorations or activities. Maybe someone who has passed away had a special job at Christmas – they manned the BBQ or handed out the presents, they brought the fruit salad or they led the family Carol singing session.
  • Make a plan for how you will handle that particular difference. Decide in advance who will take on the role or how you will change your celebrations to cope without it being done. Communicate the plan clearly with all who are impacted.
  • Identify the emotions that are attached to the change. Obvious ones would include sadness and grief – but there could be anger, guilt, loneliness, fear, insecurity, hopelessness etc – possibly even relief or happiness. Giving permission for people to feel what they are feeling is a gift that can often bring great release and healing.
  • Be intentional about honouring what HAS been whilst celebrating all that is. New situations, new friends and family to celebrate with, new physical environments all lend themselves to exciting opportunities to add new traditions and memories to your Christmas gathering.
  • Remember that while much may have changed in your life, God has not! He is the same God yesterday, today and forever. He sees everything, knows everything, is not surprised by anything and offers us infinite love, grace and compassion as we process our way through a broken world. Immanuel – God is with us!