Grief, pain, illness, & fear…they are part of the plethora of emotions that we humans face at various times in our lives. I can’t tell you when you will next feel any of these emotions. But I can promise, without hesitation, that you will.
So might I make a suggestion?
Spend your good, healthy, clean, & well days getting your hard-time team in order.
“What,” you may ask, “is a hard-times team?”
Keep reading. I promise to tell you.
I used to live at church. If the doors were open I was there…in service…to something. It was my community. But over the years I found that during hard times I didn’t turn to the church. I couldn’t. People who lead aren’t given much space to be weak or sick or ask for help in church. And God help you if you are a woman leader who needs those things. In some circles it is seen as a reason…a reminder…of why women cannot lead at the highest levels.
The same thing is true in corporate spaces. I found that out the really hard way earlier this year when my job was making me really sick and the leaders at the company just gave me blank stares and said things like “What’s it going to take for you to pull yourself together? A week off? Two?”
Here’s what I’ve learned…often the places where we spend most of our time, the places who regularly give our best selves, cannot serve us when we are down. People who rely on us to be “pulled together” struggle to see us as humans in need of mercy or grace. They have needs. We meet needs. This makes our needs confusing and confounding because it isn’t a defined part of the relationship.
This happens in churches, jobs, families, social groups. It happens anywhere that there is a power structure that doesn’t allow people to be vulnerable, confused, and broken. Places where being human is frowned upon.
So what do you do?
First of all, if you are in one of these structures and it is making you sick, GET OUT! Run, don’t walk. Let’s be honest, by the time this group or structure is actually affecting your mental and physical health, you’ve asked for help, been denied, and have tried unsuccessfully turn things around yourself.
Then, create the structure you need. In my case, I sought out and found what has become my church…a community of people (from all sorts of faiths and cultures), who don’t have a building, or a set of doctrine or teachings. But who do have one thing…love! And with that love flows in compassion and grace. And from that beautiful group of people, you cultivate and grow the hard-times team you will need when shit goes down and you are going down with it. (BTW–You also will be asked to join the teams of others…but this will be a blessing rather than a burden. You will be a participant rather than a “leader”.)
My Hard Time Team looks like this:
- A heart team. A circle of friends. Not just any friends. Friends who can handle the shit you bring on your worst days. Your deep dark junk. Friends who answer the texts, emails, phone calls, and Facebook messages when you say “I don’t know what to do” and “This hurts like hell.” Friends who sit with you in the pain and wait with you. Friends who offer walks, meals, cups of tea, trips to the sea, and movies. Friends who offer nothing but their hearts on days when you might break from the hurt of it all. And don’t forget…friends who laugh when your humor turns macabre or when you just suddenly say something so funny that they are brave enough to laugh even if you are crying. Friends who will remind you of other, better times…or remind you of the good things that you have on your calendar, in your future, or of the things that could happen right around the next corner. Friends who will talk about God and Jesus and Buddha and Krishna with you…and will not flinch when you raise your middle finger to any of them in the darkest moments.
- A body team. People! Listen! You need a good primary care physician. And I mean a good one. One that is interested in more than your vitals. They exist…keep looking! You also need a massage therapist (if your practitioner does Reiki that’s an even better find). You need an acupuncturist and potentially a good naturopath. You must must must have a decent person (friend or professional) to cut your hair. You should probably find someone who knows about exercise and can help you put together a plan that looks good for you. This can be a personal trainer or a friend who is really into fitness, but you NEED someone who can help you and who will ask you about how and when you are moving your body on a regular basis. And you need a few sweet ladies who will fawn over you with genuine love while they paint your nails. I suggest seeing these people often. Make appointments. Do the thing. Pay them well…as well as you can anyway.
- A brain team. You need a therapist. Seriously…you don’t think you do but you do. Everyone does at some stage. You aren’t that special. You don’t have it all figured out. Your inner child has some hurt too…sorry to be the one to break it to you…this is just truth. And your mama didn’t do it all correctly either. Someone hurt you. Or you hurt yourself. Find someone to talk to about it all. Pick a person who is intuitive and empathic. Someone who wants to do hard work with you…WITH you. Someone who feels your pain and empathizes but also stays in the space of helper. These people exists. See one. Seriously…you need it. You should also consider a life coach. Someone to help you tactically take steps on whatever your journey is. For me this has been so valuable at different times and there are so many lovely people who just want to help.
- A spirit team. For some of you this will be church people or a pastor you love to learn from. For others this will be the furthest thing from church you can find. For me this is a couple Seattle yoga teachers who’s classes I stalk because they ground me with their voices and their instruction. For me this is a prayer partner (also a member of my heart team) who checks in with me each day and prays with me at least once a week. My prayer partner is a real person…a real friend…a woman who says “Wooo…I drank too much last night” and who can handle my vulgarity in the face of anger with God. For me this also looks like teachers…teachers who I follow and admire from all walks of life. It’s Rob Bell, Liz Gilbert, Anne Lamott, Barbara Brown Taylor, Glennon Melton, CS Lewis, Marcus Borg, & Brene Brown. For me this is morning meditations…sometimes with the help of Oprah and Deepak or Pema…but mostly it is me on a pillow, with a candle lit, talking to God and getting really really quiet and still to let some light in. My spirit team is also furry. My cats, Malcolm and Rose, have saved me over and over on the days when I couldn’t save myself. They cuddle me and find me if they hear tears and they insist that I get out of bed and feed them. They are little fur covered Buddhas.
- A mind team. These are the people I work with who stimulate my brain. These are my brainy friends who talk to me about silly tech or science things that interest me. These are my friends who play along with my armchair theologian ways and go diving into what the universe is up to and who God really is. These are my friends who argue with me on Facebook about any number of things such as politics, religion, music, movies, and football…and who come out of it loving me more instead of less. These are the authors that screw with me because they can write fiction so beautifully. These are authors who stop me in my tracks, make me underline their words, and then work me over for days as I dig around in what I’ve learned.
None of this happens by accident. None of it happens without intention. None of it happens over night.
It happens because you get down low enough that you realize that the next time you need to be a bit more prepared…because hard times come…there is ALWAYS a next time. All you can do is prepare during your best days to have a team on your worst.
I love you people! I do.