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Ask Jayson: How Do I Share My Trials in a Healthy Way?

underwoodDear Jayson,

My husband was recently diagnosed with cancer and we’re going through a lot right now. Suddenly, a question as simple as, “how are you” is an enormous challenge. Most ask how we’re doing with concern and sincerity but socially it’s awkward to know just how much they want—and how much I’ll feel like sharing. Any advice?

Overwhelmed

 

Overwhelmed

First of all, let me tell you how sorry I am that you’re walking this road. I’d like to encourage anyone who reads this correspondence to take a moment, right now, and pray for Overwhelmed’s situation (thank you).

Your question’s a powerful one. When you’re walking through hell, what’s the healthiest way to invite others into your experience? You desperately need community to come alongside you and prop you up, but you have to be mindful of how physically and emotionally exhausted you are.

It compounds your fatigue to constantly have to retell your story. In fact, there are times when you just want to feel normal and don’t want the constant reminder that you’re in the middle of an epic battle.

People ask how you’re doing for a number of reasons. Like you said, many of them are sincerely concerned. But let’s be honest, there are some that ask because they don’t know what else to say. But all of them are potential partners in prayer and people who can find ways to help you bear your burden.

So . . . how do you respond to people when they ask how you’re doing—especially at inopportune times (which should be decided entirely on how you feel at any moment)?

If you haven’t started one already, I’d suggest putting together a CaringBridge site. CaringBridge will allow you to create a free site to tell the story of your loved one’s illness and chronicle the treatment. You can update it regularly and keep people up to date. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, you can also start a blog. The goal is to have a place to send people who are genuinely interested in how your husband is doing.

Then I would suggest making actual, business-card sized handouts with the URL to the site. The card can say something as simple as, “Thank you for asking how we’re doing. You can follow our story and find prayer requests at http://www.URL.com.”

When you don’t have the emotional resources to talk about all you’re going through again, simply reach into your purse, hand them a card, tell them they you update everything there, and thank them for their concern.

While you need to be willing to allow people in to care for you guys, you don’t owe anyone anything. It’s important not to feel guilty when you don’t have the strength to go into it again.

Think of this trial like a house. Some people aren’t going to make it past the porch, and that’s okay. Give them a card and the opportunity to pray for you. Others will follow up from there and make it into the sitting room. You make the decision who to confide in.

The people who need free and unfettered access probably already have it, but if you feel there are others you want to give a house key to, you’re the one who makes that decision, too.

Don’t be afraid to set mental-health boundaries. As this progresses, you’re going to be glad you did.

I will be praying for you.
Jayson

Do you have some advice from your own experience for Overwhelmed? Leave us a comment.

Have your own question? I’m always taking submissions to Ask Jayson!

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6 Comments Post a comment
  1. This topic resonates with me on a number of fronts–I have served as a pastor in the local church, I am currently serving as a hospital chaplain, and–most directly–I’ve walked a similar road with my daughter who was diagnosed with cancer at 13 (she turns 25 later this month!). Having said all that, I want to say Thank You, Jayson! for such a clear, straightforward, and helpful blog. I agree with your reminder that not everyone deserves an all-access pass. The metaphor of who gets the house key expresses that in a wise and winsome way.

    July 6, 2014
  2. Sherie #

    I also have found that people say, “How are you?” almost in the same way as if saying hello. I think it’s perfectly acceptable to say, “Hi” or “How are you” right back. Most people in passing don’t really listen to a true response. It’s more of a “What’s up?” kind of rhetorical question.

    July 6, 2014
    • That’s true. But for the sake of the question, I think it’s fair to assume the asker knows the difference between a rhetorical “how are you” and a real question about her specific situation.

      July 6, 2014
  3. For me, omission is a polite way to go. Someone asks how I’m doing, I say, “A little busy, but I’m hanging in there.” It’s the truth, but not the whole truth (so help me God). Only close friends and family deserve the trust it takes for listening to my burdens.

    July 6, 2014
    • I think our communities of faith exist to help us carry burdens. So, while dodging the question is one option, it isn’t the only option.

      But I think I agreed with this point when I suggested that one needs to choose boundaries for others.

      July 6, 2014
      • Right. That’s not to say we shouldn’t let others help us bear our burdens. But there’s got to be a line where saying a little is better for the soul than repeating the same story and reopening the wound every time.

        July 6, 2014

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