Adjusting in relationships

One of the biggest hits I had to deal with in being so sick was in my relationships with other people. Actually, it’s probably one of the areas with most adjustment, at least right now. It was just so hard to find the energy to spend on people, and more than that, hard to find people who would spend time with a sick person! Mostly I spoke to people on line, and didn’t see people in real life, except my husband.

Even then, it was different – not able to do things with him any more, even reading and playing games became impossible most of the time. My favourite thing was our “dates”, cuddled on the sofa watching whatever we could find online that seemed interesting to us both, but it felt so small compared to before. Now, we’re having to change it all up again, and that’s hard too. We grew out of the habit of doing things together, and we have to relearn it. Our hobbies have diverged a bit, and we’ve both become more used to doing things alone again, but we can do things alone, together, and even that’s so much better than him doing things whilst I rested. It needs more work, but relationships always take work. This one is the best I have and I mean to keep it that way. I mean to make it even better.

There are so many different people; people I spent so much time with online, and suddenly I don’t have so much time/energy to devote there any more; people who I was just getting to know, who I can suddenly spend time with ‘normally’; people I became very close to and can now develop that friendship more; people who were constant and still are constant, who cried with me when I cried and now get to rejoice in my rejoicing. I’m grateful for them all, and want to be there for them too. Each type of relationship is adjusting I think, in different ways, because so much of my life has changed. It’s inevitable, it’s hard to get my head around it all, but it’s good.

The hardest relationships to adjust to though, have been with the people who weren’t there, but now are. The people who disappeared but, for one reason or another, are now back in my life. It’s honestly really difficult to know what to do.

I’m in two minds about about writing about this bit, because it might be seen as condemning or judging. But in the end I’m saying this, not to condemn people, please don’t take it in a spirit of condemnation, but because I want to be honest about all these things I’m feeling and facing. Because if I’m feeling it, someone else might be too, and they might need to hear that they aren’t alone, and these feelings are valid.

I’ve had people look me in the eye and tell me straight out that they knew I was terribly ill and are glad I’m better… no apology for abandoning me, for the broken promises and the empty words they often gave me, just happiness that I’m better now. How do you deal with that?

Most people though don’t comment. They’re pleased I’m better, they don’t mention how they acted when I wasn’t. A few people seemed a bit awkward, but nothing was said. These ones are difficult to deal with, too.

Part of me sometimes wants to scream, don’t you know what you put me through? Another part of me wants to run away, change church, change city, never face them again. Part of me wants to tell them. Part of me wants to pretend it doesn’t happen, so there’s no conflict.

The part of me I’m listening to, though, says this: What they did to you, is nothing, nothing, compared to what you did to God. And did he condemn you? Did he send you away? When you deliberately hurt him over and over for no reason other than your own selfishness, did he rage at you or run away or refuse to associate with you? No. He knew it was wrong, and put the punishment on himself. He said it was wrong and forgave you anyway. How much more should you forgive these people who he is also willing to forgive?

Moreover, he who saved you from death and then saved you from being bedbound for the rest of your life on top of that, loves these people, really really loves them, and wants you to love them too. He commanded you to love them, in fact. He didn’t say they wouldn’t hurt you, and if they do then that’s their problem; your problem is to love them, and treat them with grace.

You gave up any rights to hold grudges or to condemn when you accepted God’s gift to not hold grudges against you or condemn you – and isn’t that more than a fair trade? Isn’t that super brilliant in your favour, even if it’s hard?

Yes, it is.

So my plan is grace. My “dealing with it”, is grace. It’s hard, of course it’s hard, but it’s the absolute best thing I can be doing. I’m not even sure how I’m doing it – it’s probably all God. I’m not saying I will tolerate evil or accept the status quo as okay – I absolutely won’t, because that is in no way love, but neither is condemning people for what they’ve already done and refusing to forgive. I want to change things, not dwell on the past; I want to treat people with the same grace I received, and move forward so that maybe next time, we’ll do better.

So that brings me to the third group of people – the smallest and the best – the ones who come up to me and say “I’m sorry”. The ones who say they knew I was hurting, and they knew they did nothing, and they know it’s not okay. The ones who take that step to repair the relationship themselves.

And the way I deal with that is generally by crying a bit, and hugging them, and telling them they made my day.

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Comfort

I find a lot of the time, especially when I was really ill but even now, that people felt guilty telling me of hardships. Small things especially, like suffering with a cold or a bad nights sleep, but often they aren’t mentioned at all or if they are, it is with a “oh, but it’s nothing compared to what you have been through, I shouldn’t even mention it”.

Actually, I probably do the same myself. There is the tendency to think that because someone suffers greatly, they will be insulted if we seek comfort in our smaller sufferings. Sometimes they are. Or, to think that they would consider the small suffering to not be suffering at all, because the gap between them is so huge.

The way I see it is this though: any suffering or hardship, is suffering or hardship. It is beyond the point of not-suffering, and so unpleasant, no matter the comparison to anything else. If comparison was the only legitimiser to needing comfort, I doubt anybody would be worthy of it, because there always seems someone who is worse off in some way.

I found that, on the contrary to what people thought, I wanted to comfort people more when I was suffering, because I appreciated the comfort so much myself. Comforting someone is in itself a thing that makes you feel good, even the comforter. It brings people together, and part of me chaffed at being denied that when people would not share any hardships with me because of my own situation. I felt most of all, that I was more able to sympathise or empathise, more able to offer the silent comfort of listening, because I understood so much of what suffering was. Especially in things that seem shadows of what I went through – tiredness, pain, injustice, and whatever else – I know how awful they can be to go through, in a way those without encountering suffering could.

I think Biblically that this is the way to go, too. I came across this yesterday, from 2 Corinthians 1:
Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so through Christ our comfort also overflows.  If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation. If we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is experienced in your endurance of the same sufferings that we suffer.  And our hope for you is firm, because we know that as you share in the sufferings, so you will share in the comfort.”

It reminded me of my thoughts on this matter; that actually it is through suffering ourselves that we are able to really come alongside others in suffering, and that it makes you want to do just that. I don’t deny that there are people who really do get upset by others mentioning their own sufferings, indeed that there are times in which it isn’t a great idea to bring up minor things in the face of major, but I think that this is the right response to suffering – to reach out and comfort others. Not always easy, or painless, but right.

Dealing with negativity in online communities (NHBPM 14)

The most effective piece of advice for dealing with negativity is this – don’t spread fires, put them out.

 

That doesn’t just mean swift removal of trolls (which is a rather more well-known issue) but also this: assume the best intentions until proven otherwise. That is, don’t be naive – but take everything with grace.

When you write something, it is often very difficult to convey the exact feelings you have which go alongside the piece. The shorter your writing, the less context you can give it – and that leaves much room for misinterpretation. Even face to face, how many times have we had arguments due to someone else’s misunderstanding of our intent, or something we mis-phrased?

It is equally hard to pick up on the exact sentiments someone is conveying when you read something. You may assume due to certain words that they are angry – they may be joking. A smiley emote may make you think they are laughing at you – actually, they are trying to reassure you. It is very easy to quickly anger over the assumed intention of someone else’s words, but it may also be entirely unwarranted.

When we look at our own actions, we see behind them all our fears and feelings, everything that lead up to them and from them which excuses us in our own eyes from harsh judgement. Very rarely are we purely spiteful (or so I would hope). Extent to others the same grace you give yourself – if something angers you, allow them to explain it. If someone disagrees, do not take their violent words as hostility against you, but against the subject itself. Leave room for error. Acknowledge that people make mistakes, and often talk from what they feel instead of what they know.

Don’t spread fires – put them out.