I have a friend I’ll call Mr. A. He’s not a Christian and in fact was raised Jewish, though he’s not observant. I’ve known him for a couple of years now; we have one of those “one lifts the other up” kind of relationships, of which I’m a seasoned veteran. During a time when he was struggling with some Stuff, I listened and provided alternate perspectives. Then when it was my turn, as I was circling the drain at my last job and then during my ongoing unemployment and depression since, Mr. A has been a sounding board for me. He has a family of his own, so we don’t actually see each other much outside of D&D, but we chitchat over Facebook Messenger on the reg.
Mr. A is one of the most good-natured and positive people I know, which makes our friendship something of an anomaly. As I’ve written before, I have a history of clashing with people who try to bury me under their suffocating tidal waves of cheer. Even as a small child, I loathed people who tried to force me to smile when I didn’t feel like smiling. This included the school photographer (your goofy antics are an insult to my intelligence, JOSHUA), clowns (not scared of ’em, just hate ’em), and my elderly parents’ elderly friends who thought it was funny to tickle me (usually re-thought after a well-placed kick or two from my Mary Janes).
Back Off and Let Me Sulk Already
Fast-forwarding to my life as a born-again adult woman, sometimes it’s like being in first grade again. With my lengthy absence from church, the finger-wagging eased up some; but since I’m still Facebook friends with a lot of Christians, they make their presence known. I can’t even post a mild pity party for myself without at least one of them chiming in about “not focusing on the negative.” I’m pretty careful to post a lot of jokes, nature photos, and the occasional Bible verse, by the way, lest you think I’m nothing but a permanent Grinch on social media. Still, even the occasional moan while scraping my boils is an affront to those Good Little Christians who are offended by my negativity.
I’m not sure why Mr. A has escaped my resentment in that regard. Maybe it’s because his positivity is non-sectarian? He doesn’t couch his advice in Bible verses about tribulations that I know he, personally, has never suffered. And every once in a while I do lose it a little, like last weekend when he tried to encourage me to get a job with the school district and it became painfully obvious during the application process that they were never going to hire me. Fortunately, Mr. A weathered my little outburst with aplomb and accepted my sincere apology afterwards. He’s a good guy.
Insert Platitude Here
I just get sooooooo discouraged when I’m dealing with some actual, non-imagined crisis or tough choice, and all the “support” I receive comes in the form of banal buzzwords and trite little chestnuts. The list of “not helpful, thanks anyway” comments that make me cringe includes such vapid proverbs as:
- “There are people worse off than youuuuuuu!”
- “Everything happens for a reason!”
- “All things work together for good!”
- “Beggars can’t be choosers!”
- “There’s three sides to every story: Your version, my version, and the truth.”
- “You never know until you tryyyyyyyy!”
SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP
Like, please, just stop. Even if I assume that you mean well, those insipid little bons mots aren’t helping me handle my crap. Yes, each of those hackneyed phrases have a grain of truth, but guess what? There are better ways to express them, including NOT SAYING THEM if you have nothing practical to add.
- There are, in fact, people who are worse off than I am. BUT, God still loves me and cares about my stupid little problems. I need help solving them.
- Everything does indeed happen for reasons that are clear to God. How can I better comprehend the reason for this thing that is happening to MEEEEEEEE?
- If you’re going to quote Scripture, quote it in context, and apply it. Romans 8:28, in full, says: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (KJV, emphasis mine) What good is being achieved by my currant trials, and how can I understand them better?
- People who’ve been reduced to begging are still people. God loves them and cherishes them. They can choose, just as much as any sanctimonious [EXPLETIVE DELETED] can do so.
- The “three sides to every story” perspective is one that needs to disappear from our lexicon. If you want to suggest that someone is being less than truthful, just sack up and say so.
- Sometimes, one does know, even without trying. Especially if one has tried in the past, and failed.
Okay Don’t Shut Up But Maybe Be Helpful?
My good friend Mr. A is someone who tends to chirp “You never know until you try!” a little more frequently than is comfortable for me. It’s usually in the context of a job that I’m wondering whether I should apply for, like one I saw on Craigslist earlier in the week. The posting was thin on details, so I did a little weaseling. I discovered that the company is run by a husband-and-wife team, and let’s just say I don’t do well working for couples. Every intimate twosome I’ve ever worked for has always proven disastrous for me. So I held off on applying for this job because, well, recorded history.
But then a handful of days later I realized that oh yeah, I’m still unemployed and haven’t scored any interviews since that two-hundred-mile failure from the previous week, so I revisited my thoughts on the subject. And I changed my mind. PLEASE CLAP. Thank you. I also told Mr. A, and our exchange was as follows:
Mr. A makes an excellent point here, and he manages to do it without putting me down, making me feel guilty, or otherwise drowning me in a tsunami of positivity that I cannot personally feel.
What’s the Best That Could Happen?
I haven’t been able to afford therapy for several years, but the last time I was getting it, I was paying attention most of the time. “What’s the BEST that could happen?” was a rare tidbit of useful thought-modification that my counselor passed along to me. It requires a fair amount of effort, but on some of my better days I can shift my rusty mental gears into this alternate way of thinking. What if, instead of being a quagmire of codependency and dysfunction, this married couple is a healthy business team? What if I’m just the quirky yet badass rockstar they need to take their company to the next level? What if they’re normal, cool people with appropriate boundaries?
You see, it actually IS possible to penetrate the seemingly-airtight seal of my negativity. The shield of “This won’t work because it never works” isn’t completely bulletproof; you just need the right ammo.
Just don’t be all up in my grill shooting “You need to stop being so pessimistic” and “You’re not really trying” paintballs at me, because that’s not the way to do it. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way.