I poured the hot water into my paper cup, plopped in a tea bag, and headed to my seat. “Hi, Courtney. So glad you were able to join us,” one of the coordinators cheerfully greeted me as I joined the circle of women.
As I sat down, I took an inventory of who was there. Oh I know her and her. And they’re nice, I thought to myself. Before I could continue my survey, the leader asked who wanted to share about how their week was before we jumped into this week’s Bible study.
“I can go,” one woman offered. She shared that she was doing well but was a little worried about her family back home. She talked about a milestone her kid had hit, and everyone laughed and smiled in support.
This theme continued for a while. Same tone, different people. “Things are good. Husband’s always working. Just busy. Kids keeping me busy.” I kinda tuned out for a while because I loathe surface-level talk.
And then I heard, “I’m really struggling. I just feel like it’s the same every day with my kids. Like what even am I doing?”
Her vulnerability and pain drew me back into the group. Her tears were met with silence. I looked from woman to woman to see how they would respond. After several seconds, I began to wonder if anyone was going to address this poor woman’s pain. Finally, someone offered, “Yeah. I get it. It can feel really hard.” I had to squelch the therapist in me. Don’t do it, Courtney. Let other people offer support and encouragement. You don’t have to be the rescuer every time.
Other women began quietly nodding their heads in agreement. Finally, someone chimed in. “But I mean, this is the most important job you’ll ever have. Being a mom! You just need to trust that this is where God wants you to be right now,” a bubbly, brunette woman confidently stated.
My stomach dropped.
The women in the circle stopped nodding in agreement and began to contemplate this woman’s words. “This season feels hard right now, but God is faithful. God is so good!” she happily concluded.
And just like that, the rest of the room was swept up into another tale of toxic positivity.
Toxic positivity has been in the media quite a bit lately. If you’re not familiar with it, I love this definition by Tanglaw Mental Health: “the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy and optimistic state in any situation; the denial, minimization, and invalidation of genuine human emotional experience.”
As a Christian and a military spouse, I see toxic positivity a lot. I mean, A LOT.
We’re expected to be the doting, supportive spouse while our partner goes off and does…well, many of us aren’t even allowed to know what they do. “At least you have your children to keep you company,” one woman told me when she learned my husband was deployed. “I guess…” I muttered. I wanted to ask her, why can’t I just be sad and lonely? Why do I have to focus on the positive? I didn’t think that would go over well with a stranger. So I politely moved along.
I get it. It’s hard to witness another person’s pain, physical or emotional. We are quick to look away. We are quick to offer solutions. We are quick to do anything but acknowledge the heartache this person is facing. Gosh, I get tired of it. But I can’t just give up because it’s not who I am.
So what can I do? What can you do?
When that woman in my Bible study shared her struggles and then had her feelings dismissed by a fellow sister in Christ, I could see the message this woman was receiving. “Your pain makes me uncomfortable. I can’t fix that. But I can tell you how you should fix it. By trusting in God. That should do it. All better.” I absolutely believe that the bubbly woman had the best of intentions. She was just repeating what had been modeled for her.
Don’t get me wrong, I do believe God is faithful. I also believe you can still struggle as a mom. And you can be depressed and frustrated and happy. None of these are mutually exclusive. You do not have to trade one truth for another.
But this isn’t modeled. In church, in the military, in our families. “Just look on the bright side,” we’re told. It is hard to see anything bright when you are so far down in a hole that you feel like the darkness will swallow you up. So you learn to silence your sadness. You dismiss your demons because you are too much for others. Your feelings are not safe here. Nothing feels safe here.
After we finished our discussion on the Book of Ruth, I went up to that woman, put my arm around her, and told her how brave I thought she was for sharing her truth.
I didn’t tell her that “everything’s going to be OK” or “you’ll figure it out.” I just smiled at her, looked her in her eyes, and acknowledged that what she was feeling was really hard. I assured her that she wasn’t alone in her overwhelm.
We grabbed two chairs and sat across from each other in silence for a while. I wasn’t there to solve her problems or pain. I was just there to witness it and remind her that she wasn’t alone in that deep, dark hole.
If you feel like you’re in a hole right now, know that you are not alone.
You are not abandoned. Your feelings matter. You matter. And you deserve healing. Healing doesn’t happen overnight. And it begins when you’re ready to own your story.