My stress level spiked as soon as I saw that I’d missed two calls in my short 15 minute drive – both from my husband. The morning at home had been especially hectic, and when I left for my appointment, the tone of the house was just one notch above chaotic. Knowing the pandemonium I’d left, two missed calls did not bode well. I had a gnawing anxiety in my stomach as I called him back. I braced myself. I wondered what additional craziness had fallen into a morning that had already involved an injured toddler, as a result of a slip-n-fall in some pee. Yes, it was that kind of morning. My husband was calm and even on the phone, but I could hear instantly that he was stressed. He was wondering where the remote was. *cringe* I’d probably stuffed it behind a couch cushion, trying to hide it from said toddler, I reported back. He went on to explain that he’d been looking for it so that, at 10:30 in the morning, he could finally eat some breakfast and drink some coffee while the kids were distracted. Ugh. I did not feel good. I know how it feels to be hustling hard just to try to get some caffeine and breakfast in the mornings, and if he was looking to the TV for some kid distraction, things certainly hadn’t improved since I’d left. “Sorry, hon. I’m sorry.” He told me it wasn’t a big deal, but shared that he was frustrated and hungry and, to top it off, he’d gotten angry with our 3-year-old in the middle of all the fun and he wasn’t feeling good about that either. Honestly, I can feel the residual stress of that phone call even as I type it out here, days later. My husband had located the remotes and, at that point, I needed to go in for my appointment. I tried to say something mildly encouraging (without sounding stressed myself) and we said goodbye. When we have stressed out loved ones, it can be almost automatic to take on and absorb some of that stress – sometimes, we take on more than just a little bit. And while it’s wonderful and important to help each other bear our burdens, sharing the burden is meant to lighten it – not just spread it around.
When Kyle gets stressed, I feel anxious. I feel nervous, weighted down and sad. I don’t like to see my favorite person upset or taxed in any way (though he’s not the only person whose stress I can let affect me). At a core level, I can feel simply helpless and that feels terrible every time. However, I know in my head that my job as a supporter and friend is not to jump into the miry muck and experience a duplicate strain for myself. Sharing our hurts and hardships should, at its most basic level, lead to gains in freedom, peace and closeness for everyone. When I step into the fray and allow my own shoulders to feel weighed down not instead, but in addition to my people, I not only fail to help the person already strained, but I take on truly unnecessary hardship myself. I won’t even run down the rabbit trail that starts by realizing that, at some point, my strain has the potential to then double back on the person I’m trying to love in the first place. Stress, anxiety, hurt and fear, when not surrendered and yielded to God only perpetuate one another, no matter how they’re handled or by whom. When shared, we can help others’ loads to lighten. We can think of upward motion and lift as our objective; when the weight is simply redistributed or, worse, duplicated, we are missing the mark. So, how do we get on track?
First, we acknowledge the reality of the situation. When my people are hurting (and in the story described above, I was carrying weight for both my husband and my daughter, knowing that they’d had an unpleasant interaction), it’s important to take a moment to just be with that hurt or stress. I can’t help with something I’m afraid to look in the eye. Kyle had lost his temper, however, mildly, with our little girl – and now they both were feeling lousy as a result. Pretending that nothing was really wrong or keeping my sadness at that reality held away at arm’s length doesn’t properly equip me to be present to the situation or to truly help.
That brings me to my next point, which is probably the most important: when we have stressed out loved ones, we have to help in appropriate ways – and, if you’re wired at all like I am – your gut reaction about what’s appropriate may need
some fine tuning an overhaul. My job is not to take away discomfort. I can’t heal; I can’t relieve. I can’t mend hearts or redirect soul pursuits. You know who can? God of course. I knew that morning that “fixing” wasn’t mine to do. My “to do” list included “listen. love. support. release to Jesus.” Rinse, repeat as needed. The good news is that God has a list too. His list that morning might have had things on it like, “Guide, comfort, reassure, convict, forgive and LOVE LOVE LOVE.” So, what was an appropriate action for me at that point? Worry? Nope. Judge? Definitely no. Instruct and strategize for repair? Absolutely not. My job was the love. And, in this situation, that meant loving my husband by listening without judgement and without blame. It also meant entrusting him to God. It meant praying. I know his character and I know his relationship with Jesus, so I knew he’d connect and make amends with our daughter. I have to surrender that too. Their relationship, as hard as this is to live into, is between the two of them. I am not an appointed intermediary, nor should I try to be. And my husband’s mood (like the condition of his heart, for that matter), is also not my responsibility. When I try to step into the connection between God and my husband or between my husband and our daughter, I’m actually disrupting relationships of which I am not directly a part. We can (and should) pray for those relationships, but we have to do so rooted firmly in the fact that we are third-parties, acting and praying in love – not active participants.
When we anchor ourselves firmly in our designated roles as supporters, lovers and friends, we create and support healthy boundaries for all involved. I can easily get twisted up and distracted by the relationship someone else has with the Lord. Sometimes, I can step so far into someone else’s relationship that I lose sight of my own. When I stay focused on me and Jesus, I am naturally more desirous of, as well as more able to, live as an effective support for others in their pursuit of closeness with Him. When I forget that my role has limits as I encourage others into more truth, more freedom and more connection with Him, and I try to make those things happen on my own, we all get out of whack. Simply put, I have to remember that I am not the Holy Spirit for my husband or for anyone else.
It’s good to care; it’s crucial to love our stressed out loved ones. It’s harmful, however, to try to take the place of someone else in his or her own life. You can encourage; you can advise when asked. You can pray your heart out. You cannot, however, live someone else’s life for them – not even a couple hours of it. When we release our stressed out loved ones to His care and focus our hearts on trusting Him too, we find and foster the peace and freedom friendship is meant to inspire. We won’t always get it right (I know I don’t!), but keep in mind that God’s “To Do” list encompasses all of us, and He never misses a line item. He’s got this. He’s got your loved ones. He’s got your friends. And, He’s got you too. It’s safe to trust Him – with all things, with all people. Give Him all of what’s precious to you; it’s the only way redemption really works.
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