Helping others walk through the mud.
A few years ago, I was in a relationship with someone who drove me crazy. Sounds healthy, right? It didn't start out that way. Little by little, as we grew closer and figured out how we both responded to adversity, I became filled with this desire to fix whatever was broken. I wanted to help him. I wanted to be the ultimate fixer. As our relationship grew distant because of this spirit in me, I still didn't understand. Why didn't he want my help? Why couldn't he see that my wisdom was good?
He was stuck in the mud pit. I could not save him, fix him or will him to step out onto dry land.
You cannot pull people out of the mud pit prematurely. The mud pit, as undesirable as it sounds, is a place we've all visited. It's the bottom. It's the heartbreak and the loneliness. It's the spot in our careers where we feel like the wheels have stopped turning. It's the isolation. It's the part where you know you're broken but you don't know how to fix it.
My mud pit happened in November 2014. I call this period of my life "Baltimore." A rock-bottom depression left me picking up the pieces of my life and then developing a new building plan. It's like I had this old instruction manual and I suddenly couldn't use it anymore. I didn't want to build the same thing over again.
You see, no one could do this precious rebuilding for me. People could show up to the work zone. They could bring coffee or offer moral support. But the rebuilding after the fall was always my own process. Only I could know what it was going to look like to be new again.
Pulling someone out of the mud pit prematurely doesn't fix or help a person. In fact, it might harm them. We get a little self-righteous when people don't act how we want them to act. I'm learning the best thing I can do for someone in the mud pit is offer help, support, but never claim I can make them better. Relationships sometimes fall apart when we try to be the fixer and, in turn, make the other person the victim.
My mud, while it was always guaranteed to be busy, helped me. It changed me and made me into a stronger version of myself. I wouldn’t trade it. I know now that you can’t pull a person out of the mud pit, you can only help them through it.
So what can you do for someone in a mud pit?
1. Just be there. Sometimes a person going through the mud won’t know how to give you a role. They won’t have some easily defined job description for you. That’s okay. Sit down with a pen and paper and write down several ways you can serve this person in the month ahead. Maybe you bring them flowers. Make you find special prayers to speak over their lives. As I did this exercise for a friend of mine, I started to see all the ways I could better serve and love the people in my life without expectation. There’s something beautiful that comes with serving without any expectations. The role is humbling and defining. It will grow you as a character and help other people see what it means to show up.
2. Take care of yourself. Emotions run high in the mud pit and there is a real heaviness to the burdens we bear on behalf of one another. Self-care is extremely important when helping someone else. As you reach out to help someone else, make sure you are well supported and surrounded. You can’t take care of other people if you don’t take the time to care for yourself. Remember to keep something you love in the folds of the day like making time to get a good workout in, read a good book or meditate. You will serve your people better when you take care of yourself.
3. Look in the mirror. There's this one part in 1 Peter that talks about needing to "clean house" and get rid of all the things that don't serve God or the person God made you to be. I think there is some pride rooted in wanting to fix another person. There is such a thing as becoming too involved, reaching a point where you try to control the situation rather than be steady within it. Be willing to ask yourself the tough question: Am I helping this person or hurting this person? We have to remember God is bigger than any circumstance and he is ultimately in control. Just as a friend or a family member walks through something tough, God is often in the business of teaching us something through the pain too. Be ready and willing to look at yourself and ask, "Am I avoiding something in my own life that I don't want to see? What can I learn about loving others from this?”
4. Listen. Maybe you don't understand the mud. Maybe you are frustrated because it feels like you don’t have all the answers. Take heart. We weren’t designed to know everything. Sometimes the most valuable thing you can give another person is a listening ear. Some people just want a safe space to vent, feel, and cry.
5. Encourage proactivity. This was absolutely huge for me in my depression. I am forever grateful for the people who said, “Okay, enough wallowing. It is time to stand up. It is time to do something.” Mind you, no one was forcing me to do things I wasn’t ready for. My friends showed me just how much they cared about me by refusing to leave me standing in one place. They pushed me to take baby steps. They cheered me on when I went to the gym or sat down to write. Action steps, big and little, are often what stand between the mud pit and the finish lines of our trials. Cheer your loved ones on and remind them of the truth that’s so hard to grasp in the dark: You’re capable. You’ve got this. Keep going.