A friend said something the other day that sent me scampering down some rabbit trails. For those who might not know, “going down a rabbit trail” is an idiom that refers to thoughts or discussions going here and there off the main topic. Although some people think they are distractions, I happen to love going down rabbit trails in my thoughts because they can lead me to some interesting and profound places.
An example of a rabbit trail is this: Last weekend EJ asked if we had any bread. I told him that we had some on the counter, but he couldn’t find it, so I said, “There, see? I’m pointing right at it.” That made me think of Kaylee, a character in a favorite science fiction television series from the early 2000s called Firefly because she had said much the same thing in an episode. Firefly makes me think of how much I enjoy science fiction, which makes me think of when JJ asked me last weekend about the sore on my face. I told him it was where an alien had entered my body and now it was in the process of taking over my brain. That made me think of the science fiction program called Stargate SG-1, in which parasitic aliens entered a person’s body and possessed them.
These evil parasitic aliens declared they were gods and enslaved people from various planets, demanding their worship. One of the main characters on the show, an alien named Teal’c, had once served these false gods, but he had rebelled and now fought against them. His example caused others among his people to also rebel. When any of his people were facing death, they declared victoriously, “I die free!” This always makes me think of recovering from abuse because abuse enslaves a person’s mind, causing a victim to believe he/she is worthless, inadequate, and a bunch of other things. Recovery is really a battle against false beliefs forced upon a victim by a godlike abuser who demands submission to his/her control. I have told EJ that when I die, I want “I died free” to be written on my tombstone because it has great meaning to me.
All EJ did was ask where the bread was, and locating the bread was all he was thinking about, but my mind skipped and leaped from one thought to another and ended up in a totally different place. That is a rabbit trail. So when I say that a person said something that made me ponder, I simply mean that he/she said something that caused my thoughts to skip and leap and wander from one place to another, and it may (and likely is) very different from and unrelated to what the person had in mind. I am not saying that the person was thinking or saying what my thoughts wandered to.
My friend said something that started me thinking of how very difficult it is to watch someone have wonderful dreams come true when he/she is going through intense suffering. I know how difficult it is because I have been there. I have seen good things happening to people while I and my family have suffered with things like chronic illness, infertility, miscarriage, abuse, financial struggles, my son’s cancer, and many, many other things. I know what it’s like to see others get pregnant when I struggled with infertility, or when I heard of loving families getting together when my family is abusive, or when a person gets the new house in the country that we would have loved while we can’t escape town, or when a new boss gives his friend, who we knew abused his family, honest and loving EJ’s job. It is hard.
Thinking about how difficult it is started me wandering down the rabbit trails. Actually, I revisited memories and experiences and lessons learned in the past.
First, I thought about a woman I had worked with years ago, before JJ was born. She was quite terrible at empathizing with people who were suffering. I was sometimes appalled at her lack of sensitivity and empathy. However, she knew how to “rejoice with those who rejoiced” better than anyone I have ever known. She totally shared in others’ joy without the slightest sign of envy. There was no “Nothing good ever happens to me” nor “Why can’t I have good things like that?” When someone shared a good thing with her, she asked tons of questions about it and was totally excited for them. She increased others’ joy through her sharing in it. I decided that I wanted to be more like her when it came to sharing in joy. I have really tried to share in others joys…as well as their sufferings. Both are tremendous gifts to give to others.
Thinking of joy-givers made me think of joy-suckers. Rather than increase joy, as my co-worker did, some people are very good at decreasing it. For example, I can’t think of a time when my sister was ever glad when something good happened to me. She always said things like, “Nothing good ever happens to me” or “You are God’s favorite–He always gives you good things and never gives me good things.” She always made me feel guilty about having good things happen to me, and after awhile I felt reluctant to share good news with her because she always diminished it. I always ended up trying to reassure her that I don’t always have good things happen to me, and that good things do happen to her, and that God has no favorites. I know now that she is a narcissist who must always have the focus on herself. I have finally concluded that it’s ok to enjoy good things because every gift is from God who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment (1 Timothy 6:17). I’m not saying we ought to be insensitive to those who are suffering–absolutely not–but that I think we can be joyful and grateful when God gives us “good” things. EJ and I have often discussed that difficult times are also gifts from God…but that is a topic for another day. I think we ought to enjoy the gifts God gives because they help us rest from difficult days in the past and often they strengthen us for difficult days ahead. I don’t know if I explained my thoughts about this very well, but I hope you understand. I really try hard not to be a joy-sucker who sucks all the joy out of good things other people have.
Hmmmm. That, I think, is the real gift of those who share in the joy of others. They give people the gift of being able to enjoy the blessings that God richly provides them. That is a tremendous gift to give others. As the old saying goes: Share sorrow is halfed sorrow and shared joy is double joy. Or as Romans 12:15 says, rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. I currently have a friend who is wonderful at both rejoicing and weeping with others, and she is such a blessing! I would like to be more like her.
Another memory that my thoughts skipped to is of a time when a friend got a tremendous job and began to make a great deal of money–like $100,000+ a year. And her husband also worked so it seemed they were bringing in truckloads of money. At the time, we were struggling to make ends meet. EJ’s company had given him the choice of either getting laid off or continuing to work but at a lesser job for 1/3 less pay. He chose to continue to work–mostly for the health insurance but also because if he got laid off, he might never be called back to work. You know, “out of sight, out of mind.” At the time we were struggling to make ends meet, our vehicles developed problems and our furnace died. Envy began to creep in: “Yeah, and all I have is problems!” But then I remembered that my friend had told me stories of times when she was a single Mom and was so poor that she couldn’t even afford to buy toilet paper. I’ve never been that poor. And she has suffered other very terrible things in her life–both before and after she got this tremendous job. I felt ashamed that after all she had gone through, I begrudged her the good things that were coming into her life. I stopped being envious and started being glad that she could now enjoy abundance.
This was a valuable experience that helped me realize that when we see people experiencing wonderful things in their lives….well, we have no idea what terrible, dark seasons they have endured before. Maybe they are just now finally enjoying good things after years of terrible suffering. I am sincerely glad, now, when I see others finally have a season of blessing. If I feel envy start to creep in, I reject it, reminding myself that they may desperately need this time of goodness in their lives.
That is what has happened to EJ, JJ, and me. We have gone through years and years of difficulties. We have prayed fervently for answers and for relief that didn’t come and we accepted it and praised God through it. But we were tiring. I have always tried to walk when I couldn’t run, to crawl when I couldn’t walk, and to at least not retreat if I couldn’t go forward, but JJ’s battle with cancer took the rest of our strength. It is exhausting to be a caretaker and in the last year I had no energy to do anything. I still clung to God, but I found myself just trying to get through the days–and so did EJ and JJ. Desperately, I told God that I knew that He is good and faithful and keeps His promises, but I now needed Him to carry me and to show me His goodness in tangible ways that I could see and feel. “I will faint,” I paraphrased, “unless I can see Your goodness in the land of the living.” And finally we feel God is moving us on to a wonderful place where our spirits can be refreshed and strengthened. These days I am frequently thinking of Ps. 66:10-12:
For you, God, have tested us,
refined us as silver is refined.
You brought us into the net
and bound our bodies fast.
You made men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water.
But you brought us out
to a place of plenty.
I know these are inadequate words for those who are in the midst of brutal suffering, but it really has helped me to consider these things when life has been hard.
That is where my rabbit trailing thoughts have taken me.