This month, Leslie at Getting Closer to Myself asks, What do you do when you feel like giving up?? Funny you should ask Leslie. That’s come up a lot lately.
Like Leslie, I’ve just moved to a new state and left graduate school to start a new chapter in my life. It’s been a really hard transition. Aaron asked me earlier this week how my life is going, and I could only think of one response: hard. I’m pretty sure that someone else in the chapel scoffed when I said that, but I don’t care. It’s true. It hasn’t been easy. It’s been hard.
So Leslie, I feel like giving up a lot more than I did before I got sick. In fact, I prided myself on never giving up before I got sick. Now I’m much, much more aware of my own limitations and my own mortality. Here are a few things that have been helpful to me:
1) Being honest with myself. I’ve found that it’s been helpful to own up that things are hard or that I feel like giving up. They say that acceptance is the first step to recovery, and I think in a real sense, it’s a prerequisite to all the other things. Be careful that you don’t fall into the trap of self-pity or making excuses. You’re being honest, not giving yourself a get-out-of-jail-free card.
2) Lean on friends. Seriously, that’s what friends are for. When God told Adam in the Garden of Eden that it’s not good for man to be alone, He was on to something. Reach out to people who can sympathize. Reach out to other people who can empathize. Allow people to be with you in your hardship. Ask your doctors for support, especially if they know they can’t really help you.
3) Cut yourself some slack. Ask for help with the little things: laundry, meals, returning books to library, checking the mail, taking out the trash, delivering gifts to people. Allow people to pray for you. Tell God how difficult it is for you and how you hate how things are.
4) Make me-time even if it means not doing the little things or taking days off work or skipping chapel. (That’s what #3 helps with.) Sometimes this means sleeping. Or watching lots of TV. Or picking up a new hobby. I’ve made quilts. I’ve read lots and lots of Christian fiction and Jane Austen fan fiction. Sometimes I even go on virtual shopping trips. It doesn’t really matter what it is. Just take some time to take care of yourself, to take the phone off the hook, to check out of all the problems of life, and just tune in to yourself and what you really need. Most of the time I feel like giving up, it’s because my needs aren’t being addressed by other people. Well, step #1 means that you need to take time to address them or even listen to them. It’s hard to do that when you’re tutoring your baby sister in calculus or unloading the dishwasher or whatever. (And then, of course, step #0 is acceptance.)
5) Think about your life’s purpose. I decided a long time ago that I wanted every day of my life to count before God, and I wanted to bring a smile to someone’s face almost every day. (Some days I never get out of bed and therefore never encounter anyone. I cut myself some slack.) Some days it’s something big like volunteering in a local community or helping someone with their homework. Other times, it’s just smiling to the person in the car next to me or saying “thank you” to the clerk at the post office or making a friend smile over the phone. (I think I’ve become adept at hearing someone smile.)
I’ve found that hardship has little to no correlation with purpose. When things get hard or seem impossible, there’s always still a reason to press forward. I know that it matters to someone every single day that I’m here. And that makes it all worth it.
A few things that I’ve also learned not to do:
1) People who are worse off than you: This is incredibly subjective and isn’t that helpful. It’s true that there are people who are “worse off” than you. For example, I ran into someone after prayers yesterday who was asking for a sleeping bag because he was sleeping outside in near freezing temperatures. Those are definitely shoes that I don’t want to fill. But, you know, I think hardship isn’t a one-dimensional scale. Just because our hardships are different doesn’t mean that they aren’t exactly that: hard. I’ve learned not to discount my own reality.
2) Spending time figuring out what you did wrong or how you deserved this reality: This also isn’t helpful. It becomes a trap and a vicious cycle. Not everything in life is this straightforward. Plus God doesn’t work this way. His ways are mysterious and are not always straightforward and simple. We shouldn’t presume to understand what He’s doing.
3) Letting other people tell you that you’re sick (or your life is difficult) because of _____: Again, not helpful. When I was struggling very much with depression, one group of people told me that I was sick because I didn’t pray enough and another group told me that it was because I wasn’t making a sufficient effort to be well. It took me a long time and the insight of a very astute friend to help me realize that those comments weren’t helpful. Even if those comments were true (which is debatable), they don’t help someone get out of a funk. Now when people tell me that I should pray more, I ask them to pray that God would give me the strength and desire to do that. I know that God only answers prayers that match His heart. I’ve learned to say “no” to some people. The people who tell me that if only I exercised more I would stronger? I tell them that that’s how I got to be as sick as I am now. Sometimes I ask people to help me out with their own suggestions. The former classmate who wanted me to sue the ravenous lion? I asked him to figure out what steps I would need to take to make that happen because, while that makes sense (maybe), I didn’t have the energy to do it AND be in graduate school all at the same time. Then he understood. And sometimes I just smile and nod. Like the guy who pulled me aside after church to tell me that I needed to try protein shakes because I was unhealthily skinny. I used my former professor’s advice. Just smile and nod and say that you’ll think about it, you’ll consider their suggestion. Then walk away and forget about it. You just spent the past five seconds thinking about it.
These are just some notes on what has worked for me. I would never presume that these would work for everybody. But I hope they might be helpful or encouraging to someone.
All the best,