Unraveling the Cycle of Survival

I just put my two year old back in bed for the umpteenth time at 9:45 pm. I put him in bed, and took his blankie and laid it out on his pillow like he likes. I gestured for him to come lay his head down by patting on the pillow with my hand. He shook his head no.  

So I did what I imagine mama lions do when their cubs won’t listen and they have no words. I showed him. I put my head down on his pillow. He quickly crawled up and joined me. He especially likes putting his forehead on mine. We laid there, forehead to forehead and I took it all in.  I noticed the feel of his head pressing against mine and remembered how he loved this even as an infant, the smell of his blankie, the quietness of the room. He rubbed his hand across his blanket to feel its smoothness and then my face. It was glorious.

I thought back to all the times I had nothing left in me. I have two older daughters and I thought about the tiredness I felt deep in my bones being pregnant and putting a toddler back to bed . . . again. I thought about the nights I just wanted the day to be over . . . times when I was in deep struggle for reasons I couldn’t begin to unpack, and the regret I felt at having yelled at the kids when I was at wits end.  

I call it the circle of survival. Those times in your life when you are just getting through. The times when a set of footsteps out of bed can bring you to tears and rage and soul crushing exhaustion. Yes, I have had those times. When I see that on another person’s face, it hits me in my core. I hurt for the people who have this kind of struggle in them. No matter the cause.  

In today’s chatter, I hear a lot about how people need to buck up, toughen up, have more gratitude, stop whining about “safe spaces” and so on. And I hear that. It’s hard to sit with someone in struggle when, from your perspective, it seems relatively simple to shift one’s thinking and move on. I want that for people in struggle too. I want for them to do the bold thing to change their circumstances. I want to eject them from their pain by showing them the green grass they are standing in, and I want them to know they are loved.

What we forget is that when we eject people from their pain is that we don’t appreciate the importance of it.  In my struggles, I had to unravel before I could come back together.  Every time.  I had to go through the pain to learn the tough lessons and let God recenter me so I could be re-raveled.  

Are there people who aren’t doing that work? Sure. But they definitely won’t be jolted out of struggle by a Facebook post about their mindset and self-worth. And for those who are doing that work, when you attempt to eject them from their pain . . . well, you are a reminder of all those around them who think they are less than. That’s not helpful. I made it through my struggle thanks to the support of a lot of really kind and emotionally generous people. But my journey lasted longer than it should because of a lot of unkind and emotionally disrespectful people.  

Our job is not to fix other people. That is above our pay grade. Our job is to stay focused on ourselves and sit with people in pain and struggle.  

Tonight, I laid there with my toddler and took it all in. I processed my appreciation for that moment, all of the pain I went through to get there, and all of the people who showed up for me in kind and emotionally generous ways. And just then, my toddler picked up his pudgy, sticky toddler hand and rubbed my back. Because that’s what we do. We show up for people. And I prayed to God that She would take the joy that was exploding out of my soul in that moment to share it with someone who was in her own pain and struggle, regardless of the reason.  

Our Secrets

Bill Clinton, the Washington Post, and Shame on Me