What to do when someone you care about is in the pit? Life is so tenuous it seems, going along fairly nicely until all of a sudden an accident, or a poor decision, or onset of disease, or other big event throws us headlong into darkness and despair. The place is so different than where we just were, so unlike anywhere we would ever want to be, so threatening and fear-inducing. How long will this last? How can I get out of this place? Will I have to live here forever? Pain has a way of shrinking our sight, limiting our perspective, sapping our strength and hope. Time stretches out before us and living even a day at a time is beyond us: we’re reduced to making it through just the hour ahead. The human spirit, so resilient, is so very fragile too. Watching someone else in the pit is hard enough. And being in the pit is as bad as life gets
Some of our efforts to help people who are in the pit serve only to heap more dirt of hardship upon them, making their way even more difficult. Sometimes we can see so clearly what they need to do to get out that we overburden them with advice. Sometimes we seek to explain how they got there by recounting their behavior which may have led to this result or even offering quick summaries of the way we think God works in life. We remember how we got out of our own pit and assume others will benefit from hearing our words of wisdom. Compassion, the best part of our human wiring, easily goes astray and we cause more harm than good.
Being in the pit ourselves often brings out some harmful behavior and attitudes from us too. We get so frightened we sometimes turn on those who care for us. We try to explain things and find someone, something, to blame. When that fear and anger is turned outward we are destructive with family and friends. Or we turn the fear and anger inward and pin ourselves to the bottom. We paralyze ourselves and ignore simple little things which might help us. Sometimes our fear gets manic and we scurry so fast to get out of the pit that we exhaust ourselves and needlessly pile up more trouble.
While there does come time for action, when we find ourselves thrust into the pit the first thing to do is not much at all. First we wait. Very much like physically taking a fall, we’ve got to pause and take stock of things. Where is the pain? What does it mean? Where am I? What is broken? Our brain goes fuzzy for a while and we must “come to” before we can do anything else. The fuzziness does pass and our system adjusts to the trauma. If this first bit of waiting is not engaged we usually make things worse and sometimes we cause irreparable harm. It’s hard to wait when one is threatened. Our fight/flight instinct kicks in and neither works particularly well in the pit.
Once when I lay in great pain on the floor, I was oddly comforted by the feel of the floor itself. My body was breaking forth in a sweat yet the tile was cool. I was shaking and forced into a ball yet the floor was so solid and strong. As much as I wanted to get up, all I could focus on was the feel of the floor where I was stuck. When we are in the pit, there is the bottom which holds us and supports us in an odd sort of way. The bottom holds us long enough for something more to develop.
God seems fairly unthreatened by our pits of despair. It’s not that God doesn’t care or is powerless to help. It’s just that God knows this despair is not the ruination of life. God knows how it will be turned into a means of our healing and redemption. God is good at waiting and actively pursues our hearts in that time of peculiar holiness.
If you or someone you love gets thrown into the pit, do that first act of waiting. To be where we are is the best way of getting to where we want to be next. Feel the place beneath you and know that it too is a place where God is. God is not just in the joys and comforts. God is in the depths of despair as well. There is no place where God is not to be found. And usually we only must wait for God to find us. Then we are led out of the pit and know a bit more the matter of faith. Faithfulness, after all, is not getting where we want to be but accepting where we are.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
Worth Stuart – New Seminarian
Please keep Worth Stuart in your prayers as he begins Virginia Theological Seminary in August. Worth, previously our Director of Youth Ministries, is being sponsored in the ordination process by St. John’s. You may communicate with Worth by email: firstname.lastname@example.org