I wanted to start by saying thank you to all of you who have sent such lovely messages to me over the past few days. I have genuinely felt very loved and I wanted you to know how precious you all are to me. I'm not going anywhere yet but one thing is for sure, I will miss you very much when I do move on.
It's been a strange few months. Beneath the facade of smiles there has been a fair amount of stress and a fair few sleepless nights going on in the background; wondering about the future, worrying about logistics, panicking about there seeming to be a lack of employment opportunities, and doubting whether I have what it takes to move on to the next stage.
These kinds of feelings are probably familiar to many of us. The specifics might be different but the feelings of fear and the stress are surprisingly similar. It's been a rough 15 months and, while some of us are celebrating that something like normal life is on the horizon, others of us are anticipating a rough road ahead. It's has been a really stressful time and, for some, life continues to be really stressful.
Sometimes stress and fear can be really hard subjects to talk about in a faith context. I think it's because it sometimes feels like a lack of faith to express those things. Well-meaning people often give quick responses of "God's in control" or even "I'll pray for you", but it's not always helpful when you are really under pressure because those responses can feel like you are not being listened to or that your pain is being dismissed.
So what does help?
I think genuine listening really helps. Allowing someone to express fully all of those things that they are holding on to without comment or judgement can make the world of difference. Also doing that regularly when someone is in a prolonged stressful situation (even if they tell you exactly the same thing every time). Stress eats away at us on the inside, so expressing it is a little like cleaning a wound so that it doesn't become infected. A cup of tea or a pint of beer are usually welcome too!
I think encouragement makes a huge difference. Stress often eats away at our confidence and self-belief. We never know what people around us are going through so it's important that we build one another up, that we encourage each other and show our appreciation of one another as a habit.
I think prayer helps, but actual prayer, not just saying that we will pray and then promptly forgetting. The praying hands emoji or comments about "thoughts and prayers" have become just a kind thing to say when someone shares something difficult but ultimately those things are a bit hollow unless we actually are going to pray. Prayer makes a massive difference, particularly because those who are stressed often find it difficult to pray for themselves.
I think practical assistance really helps. When things are at their worst, sometimes all you want is for someone to take the reins or hold some of the load. Always remember to ask what they want though. I had lots of well meaning people offering to do the cleaning for me when the kids were little but what I really needed was for someone to take the kids out for a couple of hours so that I could sleep.
All of this might seem like good and sensible practical advice but, you might be asking where God is in all of this. I truly believe that God is in the midst of his people. He places us within the community of believers because it is in that environment that God expresses his love for us though his people. Jesus said that people who know that we are his disciples by our love for one another and the apostle Paul says that God places gifts within the church to build one another up.
If things are good right now, remember to listen, to encourage those around you, to pray and to offer help to those who need it. If you are going through a tough time right now, lean on the family of believers, let us help you to carry the burden and remember, God is not far off, he has not forgotten and he will sustain you.