Monday, January 26, 2015

Helping Others Access the Atonement

I've been thinking a lot about Job lately.

I'm not about to say that my trials are just like his, but there are definitely parallels that I've had to draw upon for strength and direction during this time in my life.

Earlier, I wrote about how to access The Atonement. I now want to touch upon how we can best help others to receive this sacred power during their times of affliction. This is something Job's friends had a hard time with, to say the least. While I happen to think my friends are quite wonderful, when I've opened up about my trial there have been responses that unintentionally hurt. They hurt deeply. I hope to shed some light on them while providing alternatives that will hopefully minimize the chances of these gaffes happening again.

  • Don't hold on to the "We're all the same!" mentality.
    Many people's faith hinges on the (false) notion that God treats everyone exactly the same. These people have to believe that no one's trials are worse than another's.  It follows that when someone calls out from the depths of misery, these people's immediate response is to say something that is both generic and far from sympathetic.

    Sufferer: "I'm... *gasp* in so much pain."
    Observer: "Well, we all have trials."
    Sufferer: *writhing in pain* "I can't take it much more."
    Observer: "Ugh, enough with the self pity! You don't see me crying."
    Sufferer: "But I'm having active kidney stones/diverticulitis/a bear chewing off my limb!"
    Observer: "Pfft. You're not special."

    Does that sound extreme? Would it make you cry to know this isn't very far from (my) reality?
  • Don't fear someone because of their trial. 
    Similar to Job's experience, friends who were once very close to me have been M.I.A. since they learned about what I'm going through: No phone calls, no texts, no visits. NADA.

    I sense that their fear of getting caught up in my trial is more powerful than the friendship we once had. Bummer.
  • Don't be impatient. 
    I'll say it, I think Christians have a particularly tough time with this concept. They're so proud of what Jesus has done for them that they won't allow for any Christian to be sad or upset. It's the "Good News", right? So by their logic, no one should be feeling down. Ever.

    Yet Job was not the picture of joy and happiness during his trial. He wished he hadn't been born! I can relate. In the depths of my suffering, I have thought the same thing. Unfortunately, in this darkest hour, I have been scolded for not appearing joyful. Let me tell you, that doesn't help.

    I've thought about this and came to the conclusion that the same people who chasten their friends for not having immediate joy during trials are also the ones who misunderstand the concept of faith. Faith is more than believing something unseen is true, it is a principle of action that occurs over time. Likewise, joy is not a permanent smiley face at times of suffering. Joy is the eventual product of either receiving a promised blessing and/or finding peace through The Atonement. The latter is rarely an immediate occurrence.
  • Don't assume trials are the result of unrighteousness.
    This is so common, but it doesn't make any sense. How many righteous men and women have suffered terrible afflictions? Countless. How many jerks are living comfortably at this very moment? I'm going to guess plenty.
  • Don't use another's trial to make yourself feel better. 
    That's lame, dudes. These two things actually happened to me:

    Me: "I got very ill."
    Friend: "I'm sorry to hear that. *pause* I've been blessed with good health, praise God. I've really got my life together, actually." (They then went on to talk about how great everything was for them. Smiles galore, I tell you.)


    Me: "I can't believe this is happening to me."
    Another friend: "Well, you got your education, your family, and home. You needed something like this." I came to understand that this person was envious because s/he viewed me as "getting ahead". S/he was then relieved to learn that I was given a disease that would theoretically drag me down to his/her level. (My therapist doesn't recommend that I continue this friendship.)

So what do you DO instead?
It's simple, really.

  • Acknowledge that people go through some really, really awful things.
    (For all the crud I'm going through, I still know I don't have it the worst.) This will help you to have more compassion, and will encourage you to help ease the sufferer's burden. 
  • Draw closer to the person going through the trial.
    If they want their space, let them know you're still there when they're ready. 
  • Have charity. 
    This involves long-suffering, or in other words, being patient. Instead of expecting the person in severe emotional or physical pain to appear glad all the time, tell him or her that you love them. You can also tell him or her that you're inspired by their grace in the face of the trial. When it comes to physical ailments, knowing that someone might appreciate what you're going through and that it can help others (giving the experience some utility), that's powerful stuff. 
  • Reassure your friend that you know their trial isn't the result of unrighteousness. Listen, unless you're talking about DUIs or something similar, most times stuff happens for inexplicable reasons. By letting your friend know you don't judge them for their trials, you help to remove salt in their wounds, as it were. 
  • Put yourself in the sufferer's shoes. When you do that, you won't rejoice at their misery, but rather mourn with those who mourn. Your love will grow and it will strengthen both your friend and yourself. 

And, one day, when it's all over (I know that day will come, in this life or the next) you will celebrate together. 

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