What to do when it’s not yours to fix

finding hope helping others pain purpose struggles trust Jul 15, 2020

I couldn’t sleep, I wasn’t eating. A knot twisted my stomach. I couldn’t focus on tasks that required more brain power than folding laundry. I was utterly consumed.

What was wrong? you ask. What hardship were you suffering that so consumed you?

Absolutely nothing.

My life was actually going pretty well, if I’m being honest. But someone I loved was hurting, and I didn’t know how to help. I wanted to make it better, and not knowing how was eating me alive.

I called a trusted friend, who also happens to be a fabulous counselor. She graciously listened and sympathized. She enthusiastically agreed to give me some practical tips to help my loved one. And then she said probably the wisest thing I’ve ever heard: “Ultimately, though, this isn’t yours to fix.”

This isn’t yours to fix.

Set yourself free

At first blush, this can seem discouraging. What do you mean I can’t fix it? I need to make it better! I don’t want people I love to suffer! And of course that’s true—we don’t want to see the ones we care about in pain.

But those five words actually set me free. When I realized I didn’t have to fix it, I was free to stop focusing on outcomes and just be present. I could offer hugs and a listening ear without pressure to have the “right” words.

We tend to forget that pain serves a purpose. Just as Joseph looked back on his hardships throughout the book of Genesis and told his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (50:20 ESV, emphasis added). And we learn again in the New Testament, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3 ESV, emphasis added). That “for” tells us that God has purpose in our pain. And as much as I don’t want the ones I love to suffer, I definitely don’t want to work against what God is doing in their lives.

Grief is OK

When Joey was first diagnosed, I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under my feet. I truly believed that we would never be happy again—that we would just pretend to be happy so that our kids didn’t see our sorrow. I actually laughed as I typed that. My goodness, our lives have so much joy because of Joey. And people tried to encourage me in those early days. They wanted to make it better. But I couldn’t get there yet. Before I could get to joy, I needed to grieve—and everyone who said, “Hey, it’s going to be fine! Really!” only made me feel worse, like my sorrow was illegitimate.

A few days after that initial diagnosis, I ran into a friend and told her the news. She didn’t reassure me. She didn’t congratulate me. She didn’t say, “Oh, this is going to be so good!” She just shed a single tear. That’s it. Just one. It was exactly what I needed. Deep down, I did know it was going to be OK. But in that moment, in that season, I needed to grieve. And I needed someone to grieve with me.

Weep with those who weep

Now here we are, almost 10 years later, living our lives full of joy. And yes, everyone who told us that it was going to be OK was right. But when I look back, the most meaningful—and helpful—response in all of those days was that one single tear.

So instead of fixing it—or stressing ourselves out trying to fix what we cannot—let’s set ourselves free to love and support our loved ones who are hurting. The Bible tells us to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15), not take away their reasons for sorrow; Paul exhorts us, “Bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2), not to eliminate them. We can’t always pull someone out of their pit, but we can climb down and sit with them for a while.

What worries are weighing you down today that aren’t yours to fix? How can you better love and support someone in your life by not trying to fix their problems, but just walking alongside them instead?

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