Discover more from Finding Words in Hard Times - with Jon Swanson
039 - On unpacking suitcases
Welcome back. (Or welcome!)
You and I are here because we want to be helpful to people in hard times. We’ve talked about several things relating to grief and loss and timing.
Sometimes, the way to be helpful in hard times is to help them unpack the suitcase they are carrying.
The man’s dad died recently. The man was talking about starting a new business from a new passion. I met him in a hospital room because he’d just heard a new diagnosis. He was feeling down.
I said, “I don’t have answers. I’m not going to tell you to be courageous. I’m not going to give you a formula.”
“I know,” he said.
“But,” I said, “That’s a lot.”
And I started to list the lot it was.
There is the grief after the death of a good dad. “And I’ve never wanted to deal with grief,” he said.
There’s the uncertainty of the diagnosis.
There’s the fear that the diagnosis will directly affect pursuing his new passion.
There’s the excitement of a new business, and the fear of losing the opportunity.
“I would be concerned if you weren’t feeling lost,” I said.
When there are that many things going on, unpacking them may feel like piling one challenge on top of another. But when we start sorting through, we can address each of them, and then address the confluence of these streams of uncertainty.
We were unpacking the suitcase of feeling lost.
“Maybe slowing down is okay,” he said.
My friend feels like he should be writing, and says, “I haven’t published on my blog in three months. I have no excuse.” At the same time, he’s dealing with serious health issues and is practicing guitar all the time, a long-desired, only recently-pursued activity.
I reminded him that he’s the one who created the publishing expectation. No one else is expecting an excuse. And this season may be more about music than words.
He heard me. And he almost believes me.
Unpacking the suitcase of obligation.
Sometimes, Nancy and I both fall asleep on our respective ends of the sofa. We miss the middle or the end of the episode of “Millennial Farmer” or “American Pickers”. We say, “I don’t know why I’m so tired.”
And then we remind each other of the day, of the week, of the month. And realize that exhaustion is exactly the right thing to be feeling.
Unpacking the suitcase of exhaustion.
For some people, what I’ve just said sounds like making excuses. That’s because we live with a sense of obligation to someone or to something.
Ignore those people. Especially if they are the person in the mirror.
And sometimes, rather than telling people that they can tough things out, help them unpack.
Some of you ordered copies of Giving the Year Meaning: A healing journal for Advent this week, for gifts or for yourself. Thank you. (I talked about this book last week.) It’s a journal that can help you unpack the year because sometimes other people can ask us questions that help us think things through.
I talked a few weeks back about a research project I was privileged to be part of on COVID and the American church. There’s a podcast, and while we were traveling last week, Nancy and I listened to “Chapter 2: Adapt to Survive.” The episode includes an interview with the pastor of a small Northwest church who unpacks all the expectations that were part of navigating the pandemic.
When people talk about how disrupted they are now, I sometimes suggest that we need to pull the pandemic out of the suitcase and talk about the cost of that season. This episode can help with that.
Thanks so much for the encouragement and feedback and support you provide. We’ve grown to more than 400 readers since we started in February 2023. I’m grateful for the opportunity to show up in your inbox. And I’m grateful when you share these thoughts.
See you next week.
The photo at the top is from the airport in Pokhara, Nepal in 2016.
Last week, we were at Whitefish Point. Though it wasn’t very pointy.