by Kenneth Justice
~ Yesterday at coffee an acquaintance of mine who is going through a divorce was lamenting to me his situation, “Kenneth, life can’t get any worse right now. We’re two weeks away from Christmas, my soon-to-be-Ex totally hates my guts, and I can’t afford to go to my parents for the holiday…I get home after work each night and I hide away in my bedroom…..its like I’m trying to hide from life right now”
I can’t imagine what it must be like to go through a divorce…but then on top of all the divorce squabbles to also have to deal with the holidays; gosh it must feel like a nightmare at times. My coffee acquaintance has a 15 year old son so this Christmas must be extra-bloody awful for the young man as he has to sit and watch his parents fight and claw at each other (it has been a very messy divorce).
Is it just me or do the holidays seem to often compound already existing problems?
—-) If you’ve been struggling with depression all year the holidays seem to intensify the feelings
—-) If you’ve been struggling financially the holidays seem to be nothing more than another money-grab at your pocketbook
—-) If you’ve just broken up with a girlfriend or going through a divorce with your husband….it seems like the holidays have the propensity to increasing your loneliness
Although much of my life has been all about increasing my empathetic awareness…..more often-than-not I simply don’t know what to say to people who are dealing with difficult situations. What can I say to my coffee-buddy who is feeling the full force of the divorce weigh down upon his shoulders? Patting him on the back and saying “its gonna be all right dude” hardly seems very comforting to me.
One of the difficult components of my time spent working at the rehab clinic was sitting with clients day-after-day who would cry their hearts out to me. Rarely a day would go by that I didn’t have a client sitting across from me pouring down rivers of tears and I was often left wondering what the hell I was supposed to say to someone whose life had skyrocketed out-of-control and they were literally at the very bottom of the bottle.
Sure, I knew the pat-psychological answers, “you’ve just got to take it one day at a time” but that is not the most comforting thing to hear when you’re a Meth-addict who has just found out that the court took all your child-visitation rights away because of your destructive addiction…..in the face of possibly never seeing your children again, sitting across from Kenneth-the-Counselor who tells you ‘you’ve just got to take it one day at a time’….well…..there’s not really anything that will bring you much comfort at that point.
When I was younger the popular catch phrase in the Church culture I grew up in was a verse from the New Testament, “Be ready always to give an answer…...” and for many years I totally resented that verse because I saw firsthand the way my fellow Christians misapplied the verse to mean that we are supposed to always ‘know’ what to say to whomever we are sitting with; too many of my fellow Christians (and people in general) are quick to dish out advice or speak at others as though they are all-knowing seers who dispense words of truth everywhere they go.
The simple fact of the matter is that none of us know everything…but more to the point; when we are sitting with others who are going through difficult times….giving them advice is sometimes the last thing in the world we should do.
Much of my philosophy while working as a counselor was bound up in the simple idea of learning how to ‘weep with those who weep’ and ‘rejoice with those who rejoice‘. For me, truly connecting with someone else and ‘being there for them’ doesn’t necessarily involve me speaking at them…..it involves me crying with them, laughing with them, or listening intently to them. When the time is right I say my piece…..but those times are often few and far-between.
The longer I listened to my buddy going through the divorce the more I realized that much of the blame for the breakdown in the relationship fell on his feet. Sure, I could tell that the wife had her own number of mess-ups in the marriage….but the more he talked the more I realized he held the biggest share in the dissolution leading to the divorce.
And in that moment at coffee I could of told him what I was thinking, “Dude, it sounds like your simply a jackass and that most of the blame lies on your shoulders for this damn divorce you’re going through” but I didn’t say that. It wasn’t the time…..and it wasn’t the place.
Instead, I let him vent his frustrations about how lonely he was feeling. I let him tell me how upset he was that the divorce was falling square in the middle of the Christmas holidays.
Perhaps one day he will come sit at my table again and be at a place where we can really get into the nitty gritty of why his marriage fell apart…..perhaps he never will…..but at least for the near future I will be sitting here at my little table drinking coffee.