If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
I Corinthians 12: 26
My brother is an amazing person. He has had a rough life and has made choices that aren’t good, as all of us have at one time or another. His choices landed him in the middle of a war. A war that he will have to continually fight for the rest of his life. A war against addiction and its devastating effects. HE IS FIGHTING that war.
We were having a conversation last week about things people say that do not help him. In fact, one thing said that really bothers him is “It’s just normal life. We all deal with that.” If he has enough courage to speak out about his personal struggles to someone, he doesn’t want or need to hear that.
You see, he deals with things that may seem “normal” to us but many of us have no idea how it affects him. The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as “a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long lasting and can lead to many harmful, often self-destructive, behaviors.”
It’s hard to understand this if you haven’t walked this path, and it’s even somewhat hard to understand if you have. But because of the nature of addiction, seemingly normal struggles can quickly lead to unhealthy thinking patterns and send his life spiraling out of control again. He has to work hard at fighting this addiction. To downplay anything he is struggling with doesn’t help.
I understand the reason behind saying this. I’ve probably said it myself to him at one time or another. I love him and I want him to realize that every little struggle he has doesn’t have to be a big deal. I want him to know that all of us struggle and that he’s not alone. But here is what’s true: We may all deal with struggles but we don’t all deal with the same struggles with the same outcomes. One circumstance that may not seem like a big deal to you may seem like a really big deal to someone else. When we make the statement “It’s just life”, it minimizes what a person feels and doesn’t convey true compassion. What could be heard in this situation is, “You may seem like you’re struggling but it’s really not a big deal.”
In I Corinthians 12:26, it states that if one member is suffering, we should be suffering with him. Rather than downplaying what he is feeling, he needs compassion. He needs you to be there for him. He needs you to admit it when you don’t have the answers. Above all, he just needs you to listen.
I don’t know about everyone else, but I feel the same way. I want people to really listen and not downplay my struggles. It may seem silly or insignificant when you’re looking from the outside in, but to the person experiencing it, it is very different.
When someone shares with you their struggles, take the time to listen to what they are experiencing. Ask questions. Seek to find empathy first and shower them with love before offering advice that may be difficult to receive. There are times when it is needed; however, showing them you love and care about them enough to really hear them out is an important first step.
Take the time to dig deep to find out what is going on with them, as much as they are comfortable sharing, and try looking at things from their perspective. When we deliver canned lines in an effort to make them “feel better”, we miss an opportunity to identify with their unique perspective.
My brother and I share a relationship that I wouldn’t give up for anything in the world. But I still have no idea the battles he faces on a daily basis. He can tell me and I can imagine, but I have never walked in his shoes. So as I learn how to best support him, I will continue to seek ways to show him I care and will listen to him if I am doing or saying something that isn’t helping.
Let’s walk beside each other through struggles as well as good times, rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Even if we may not understand each other, we can still stand together and pray to the One who understands it all and has the power to intervene. When we understand that God is the one who has all the answers, it releases the need to give advice even when we don’t have good advice to give and just PRAY.
For my brother, it’s not “just normal life.” It’s a struggle each and every day to take the steps that others take without even thinking. And because he is taking these steps and getting up after stumbling, I view him as one of the bravest people I know. I’ve never walked in his shoes but I will be the shoes walking beside him and a voice cheering him on as he takes each step.