A week ago I wrote a post about how churches can support the adoptive families in their midst. It seems only fair to discuss the other side of the coin. All relationships work two ways and effort needs to come from both sides. If adoptive families want to be supported there are a couple of things that are expected of them as well.
[As I wrote this I realized that it is actually broader than just an adoption issue. This is really for anyone whose life is not perfect and wishes they didn't feel quite so alone in their problems.]
Learn to be transparent.
If you ask my children, one of the phrases they will probably carve on my tombstone is, "People can't read your mind." The idea that if someone really knows you and loves you then they will just know what you want and need is a lot of piffle. It is an unrealistic expectation and an unfair test to apply to anyone. This is true for not only spouses and friends, but our church families as well. People do not know you need help if they only ever see you smiling and saying things are fine. People, even (especially?) church people are not mind readers, yet so often we think they are. People get upset that they are not given the support they need, yet at no point have they ever mentioned that life was rocky. (Please note, this is a very different problem from saying you need support, but not receiving any. I'm not talking about that.) I'll say it again, NO ONE is a mind reader. You can't expect them to know what you don't tell them. I know this is difficult and scary. If you begin to tell them exactly what life with your child from hard places is really like, they may not believe you... or like you... or respect you... or... or... or.
It's scary, I know. I've been there. Here's what I've discovered. I am not the only one dealing with difficult things in my life. Since I decided that I have no energy or desire to pretend to be anything I'm not (perfect life, perfect children, everything perfectly under control), I have discovered it gives other people permission to not be perfect as well. We are all so tired of pretending, but it seems it takes someone to break the ice, so to speak. There is no shame in saying life is rotten at them moment and you are pretty sure you can't do it by yourself. No shame, but great freedom. And, the reactions I imagined never came. Instead I received outpourings of love and support.
If you want support, people need to know you need it.
Learn to Accept Help
It's one thing to tell people you are hurting, it's another thing entirely to accept help. You don't want to put anyone out. You don't want to trespass on their time and resources. You don't want to appear needy, even though you know you are. It is humbling. Yet, people really do want to help. If others know you are hurting, then their first reaction is usually to want to fix it, to take away the pain. We all know that this is rarely possible. But people still want to do something. By allowing them to help, by accepting that help, you are also helping them by giving them an outlet for their compassion.
Continue to Help Others
Now, I know there are crisis times when just taking your next breath and surviving minute to minute are all you can do. I'm not talking about those times. Often, though, life is still sort of functioning, even it it doesn't look at all as you imagined it and takes more work than you had planned. It is easy to become so inwardly focused on our own problems that we become unaware of the people around us. I find it is always good for me to spend some time praying or doing something for someone not in my immediate family. It stops the tunnel vision and reminds me there is a broader world around me and I'm not the center of the universe. I have been so blessed by people who have done this for me,such as my friend who came and cleaned my house for me when I was hugely pregnant with G. and L., even though she had many small children herself at the time, that it makes me want to do the same for others.
While there are certainly times when my own life feels so overwhelming that it is all I can focus on, it is also true that this way of thinking can become a habit. I don't want to so fixate on what I see as my own problems and not be aware of the needs of others.
Really, in short, people can't help if they don't know you need it or you don't let them. Be courageous and take a chance at being honest with your church family. And if someone is honest with you about what life is really like, be filled with grace towards that person. None of us is perfect.
I have a new article... Incorporating Music