When I was growing up, I remember that whenever anyone had a problem, people (particularly at church) questioned whether the cause was spiritual, emotional (mental health), or physical (biological). Each problem was seen as separate and distinct from the others–although usually it was assumed that struggles with problems such as depression was spiritual.
Over the years I realized that the origin of problems isn’t quite so easily classified and separated. Instead, I think our spiritual, emotional, and physical health are intertwined and one strand affects the others. Take depression, for example–although it could apply to any problem. It doesn’t matter what its origin is, it affects a person as a whole–emotionally, physically, and spiritually: It affects a person emotionally by causing him to feel sad, it affects him physically by making him feel tired and unmotivated, and it can affect him spiritually by making him feel hopeless and lose sight of joy.
Years later I realized that even though our emotional, physical, and spiritual health is intertwined, the origin really does matter. A spiritual problem can’t be primarily dealt with in a medical or emotional way. Nor can a medical problem be dealt with spiritually or emotionally or an emotional problem be dealt with medically or spiritually.
Look at it this way: I think our emotional, physical, and spiritual health can be compared to a high performance sports car. It doesn’t matter how strong the engine is or how full the fuel tank is, if the driver isn’t in the car, the car won’t move. If the engine isn’t working correctly, the driver won’t be able to make the car operate well no matter how powerful it is. Likewise, the driver can be extremely skilled, the engine can be the best ever made, but if the fuel tank is empty, the car isn’t going anywhere. In the same way, we can have incredibly strong faith, but struggle emotionally when our bodies break down; we can get physically and spiritually exhausted when hit with too much emotional trauma, and so forth.
The problem is that each person tends to deal with a problem according to his expertise. Many doctors seem to deal with depression as if it’s a physical problem–dispensing antidepressants–without considering that the problem might be due to emotional trauma such as abuse or to a spiritual problem. Mental health professionals seem to deal with problems as if they are emotional. And many Christians seem to believe that things like depression always have a spiritual cause without considering that there might be a physical or emotional cause. While prayer can miraculously change things, it’s not unspiritual to go to a doctor or counselor for help with physical or emotional problems.
In reality, I think the best way to help a person is to see him as a whole, but also consider the cause–without making quick assumptions. I think a combination of disciplines is beneficial. For example, a person might need medication to help him get to the place where he can emotionally deal with the trauma while believers pray for him and support him in his battle towards recovery. I think these day, there are more professionals who use this sort of treatment, seeing a person as a whole instead of as distinct parts that are treated separately.
And that brings me to the struggles my family is having.
The origin is not spiritual. We love our Enchanted Forest and are thankful we are here. We are not lacking hope or faith. Our problem is that we have become physically and emotionally exhausted by carrying heavy loads for too long of a time.
I think of it as being like carrying a backpack full of bricks. Each brick is a task or difficulty. A brick can be suffering abuse, or battling cancer, or working at a difficult factory, or having to fix an eroding driveway, or having problems with Internet connections–or even just going to work or doing laundry. The task or difficulty doesn’t have to be HUGE, the weight of a bunch of small stones can add up to the weight of heavy bricks. Bricks are added and then taken away as they are dealt with. Everyone has bricks in their backpack. Anyone can carry easily carry a few bricks for as long as necessary, but the heavier the load and the longer a person must carry them, the more weary he becomes. Keep adding too many bricks and eventually even the strongest person will collapse.
Usually, not everyone has a too-heavy load at the same time. This means that if one person’s load becomes too heavy, another person can take a few of his bricks to help him. So, for example, if I get overly tired, EJ takes a few of my bricks. When his back hurts too much, I take a few of his. When JJ had cancer, EJ and I both carried as many of his bricks as we could so that all he had to worry about was overcoming cancer–which was a big enough burden without piling on more.
The problem is that EJ and I and JJ have all three become physically and emotionally exhausted at the same time. EJ’s exhaustion is revealing itself through physical exhaustion and stress-related panic attacks. Mine is revealing itself through insomnia, emotional weariness, and occasional crying. JJ’s is coming out through becoming easily frustrated and upset. None of us can carry too many more bricks, although we try. We are pulling together and helping each other, but we are exhausted.
The ideal thing would be if others–family or friends–could help us carry our burden, such as help us finish moving the rest of our possessions. After all, a shared burden is a lighter burden. The problem, however, is that these days it seems that many, many people are exhausted from trying to carry too many bricks. I see the burdensome bricks others have to carry and I am not upset with them for not being able to help me carry mine. I think they have to take care of themselves and their families first, just as I can only really care for mine right now.
At the same time, I feel close to collapsing under the load of bricks my family has to try to carry and I desperately think, “We don’t lack faith, we need to get rid of bricks! We need practical help! We need rest!”
So then I ponder how we can get rid of bricks when we have too many bricks to carry and no one to help us carry them. A Christian might say, “Give the bricks to God,” but sometimes when people say “give it all to God,” I think what does it even mean? I can’t ignore the bricks or wish them away. I can ask God for help–which I am doing–but we still have to take steps to sell our old house and fix our driveway and all that. Trusting God doesn’t mean we don’t go to work, or don’t pay bills, or don’t fix the driveway.
So, anyway, I have been pondering what I can do to get rid of bricks before I, EJ, or JJ collapses into an exhausted heap. When EJ or JJ are struggling, I try to carry some of their load, but I’m becoming exhausted–just as they are–and we can’t take on too many more bricks, even from each other. We each have to carry as many of our own bricks as we can and help when we can. We especially can’t carry any bricks of those outside our family. Even small requests from others is overwhelming. We have to be able to say, “I can do this, but not that.”
For example, JJ has been struggling with our Internet connection. He has been insisting that I talk to our ISP when we have problems. I don’t mind dealing with them when I just need to tell them that we have no connection, but the problems JJ is having requires some technical understanding. JJ has said, “I will tell you exactly what to tell the ISP.” I can repeat what he tells me, but that doesn’t mean that I will understand their answer. Talking to the ISP makes me feel like this:
Me repeating JJ: My son is having a problem with: 1100101000110101
ISP: Is his computer doing 100101001101?
ISP: Let’s try this. Go to the computer and 1100101 and then 0010100.
Me: Say what?
It all sounds like a foreign language. It is stressful to feel like an idiot when I try to handle something I don’t understand. I can help JJ with many things, but not this, so I told him that if he has a problem with the Internet connection, he needs to deal with the ISP people himself. Take me out of the loop.
In the same way, I feel stressed trying to deal with the gravel man about fixing our driveway. I can repeat EJ’s instructions but if the gravel man asks me questions, which he did the other day, I have no clue how to answer. So I told EJ that I just cannot deal with the gravel man, although I could help him lay the drainage tile or shovel stones so that he doesn’t hurt his back even further.
It really helps EJ to make lists and cross completed tasks off–as some have practically suggested. It doesn’t help me. I tend to pour out my emotions in writing instead of making lists. It also helps me to know we are making progress on tasks so that I can take bricks off my back. I can keep us focused and moving forward on the tasks we need to accomplish–but there are some things EJ does better than me–like read forms, contracts, and tax return instructions. They just cause my eyes to blur and my mind to shut down. So yesterday EJ filled out the forms from the realtor while I found him the information he needed. We worked together and got it done. This morning I let EJ sleep while I drove to our bank to fax the completed forms to the realtor so we could get started with selling the house. I knew the way, I didn’t need him to go with me, so I let him sleep.
The eroding driveway is stressing me–it’s not something that can wait–and, like I said, I need to know we are making progress. So when I got back from the bank I suggested to EJ that he might want to talk to the Gravel Guy about how to fix our driveway. I would think that the Gravel Guy would be knowledgeable about gravel projects so maybe he’d have suggestions for the best (and least expensive) way to fix it. However, whatever we decided to do, we need to start on it since the driveway is only going to get worse if we delay.
Not long after we discussed this, the Gravel Man suddenly drove up, like an answer to prayer, which I believe he was. He and EJ discussed how to fix our driveway without having to sell our firstborn son (and only child) to pay for it. This week EJ is going to work on the driveway a bit (I’ll help him when I can) and on Saturday the Gravel Guy is going to bring the stones we need. It feels good to have a plan and a timeline.
Because we have to work on the driveway problem this weekend we won’t be able to go to the old house, but at least we are making progress with some tasks, which helps lighten our load. Handing off the problems we can’t fix and helping with the things that we can also helps. I kind of wonder if God is giving us further training in how to set boundaries. If we don’t set boundaries, we will collapse.
Hopefully we can start getting rid of more bricks than we add. We so desperately need time to rest and recover.