The Silence of Sorrow

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    PEOPLE respond differently to pain. To sorrow. Perhaps upbringing has a lot to do with it. So does the emotional environment we’ve gotten used to. The support system we have, or don’t have.

    Some people find it easy to talk about their problems, the blinding pain they wake up to each day. Some just clam up. They won’t, or can’t, talk about it. They’re there laughing in front of you, cracking jokes, looking all normal, quick with their repartees — and you’re totally clueless that inside, they’re falling apart.

    Which one are you? The one who can talk about your problems as part of life? Or the one who just won’t, can’t?

    It’s not rocket science. Some people don’t open up about their problems because they think others won’t understand. Or might judge them — blame them, thinking it’s their fault. Or might lecture them, give them placebo advice, minimize their pain. Or maybe it’s just too hard for some people to talk about their problems. They just swallow their sorrow. While others go into denial.

    But more often than not, people hide their problems because they don’t like to be pitied. They don’t want to look like losers or failures. They don’t want to be perceived as weak, “unlucky” (in Tagalog, malas), inferior. Or “kawawanaman.”

    Maybe pride has a lot to do with it. I’m walking on thin ice here. But yes, I think pride has a lot to do with it.

    We’re so quick to sound off our ‘praise releases’ but won’t let out a peep when we’re going through hard times because we don’t want to be pitied. Or gossiped about. Because we know how people love to gossip about the misfortunes of others.

    So obviously, another issue is TRUST. Some people don’t open up about their problems — even to long-time friends —  because they don’t trust them.  They don’t trust these friends to be compassionate, to think well of them, to not gossip about them. Lack of trust keeps our mouths shut even when we badly need help.

    I know. This is a hard topic to talk about. But that’s precisely what I like to talk and write about — the hard topics. The unspeakables. So I appreciate those who wrote me and said that they liked hearing about the messy side of life, our bad attitudes, our epic failures, and not just the success stories of near-perfect people who make us curl up in shame inside, thinking that we’ve been dealt a really bad hand in life.

    One young lady went up to me one day and told me, “TitaCata, I like the way you talk about things that others don’t like to bring up. Things that they’d rather keep hidden in the dark.” Well, that prodded me to write even more about things that are REAL (our blemishes, scars, warts and all)— not photoshopped bliss.

    I think this young lady is vehemently against hypocrisy.

    So back to our topic — in Christian circles especially, I think some people won’t own up to their problems and instead, have this tendency to keep advertising their blessings because when one is “so blessed,” it makes one look more spiritual, more favored, more deserving of grace. It looks like God is rewarding us for our godly behavior. Being problem-free and super-blessed looks like one has “spiritually arrived.” God doesn’t have to discipline you anymore or transform your ungodly character. You’re so blessed because you’re near-perfect.

    Can you relate? Have you thought about things this way at times? Be honest now. Even just to yourself. Only God knows anyway.

    The opposite perception is true, of course. If you have huge trials, that means there’s probably something wrong with you — so God is allowing these problems to discipline you, mold your character, strengthen your weak faith in Him, let you suffer the consequences of wrong choices or generational curses, to redirect you from the wrong direction, or simply to humble you because you’re proud. Wow. That’s certainly an embarrassing list of possible causes for one’s problems and trials.

    No wonder many people keep their problems hidden under a “Praise God, He’s been so good to me” exterior. Or, if one doesn’t believe in God, “I’m good. Things are going great.” Even if they’re not.

    Or course I don’t mean that whenever someone casually asks us how we are, we’re to blurt out our litany of sorrows. No way. That’s not being real. That’s being burdensome — unless the one asking is a close friend we can trust, if the time and place are right, and if that friend sincerely wants to know how we are. Otherwise, I think a short but honest answer will do. If things aren’t going great, then no harm in saying so.  “Oh. Things aren’t going well right now.  So please pray for me.” As simple as that.

    Why? Why is it so important not to put up a facade, a veneer of “I’m good! Everything’s good, praise God!” Well, because God might make the truth spill out the next day about the big problem you’re facing. And how will that make you look?

    Sadly, I’ve witnessed this. I’ve seen people share that everything’s fine. They even gave a series of praise reports about recent events in their lives. Then the next day, God spills the beans. We find out that they had serious problems all along, but not a hint was said about it. And I’m thinking — so what was that praise release all about?!!! Why in the world didn’t he/she just say, “Well, I have some pretty tough things to face right now, but hey, guess what, God gave me these blessings to cheer me on..” Something like that. You don’t have to give the details.

    Can we be honest and real that way?

    Most of my trials in life have been pretty public — my husband had a stroke 14 years ago. Our son-in-law and daughter-in-law had cancer. One survived, the other went to heaven. Decades ago, around ten men entered our house, tied up our family and robbed us. No rape, thank God, but it was a horrible experience beyond words can tell.

    After the robbery, we sent our kids to school the next day. We told them — feel free to tell your classmates what happened to us. It might protect them from harm.

    Little did we know that giving them the freedom to openly talk about what happened to us — the harrowing experience we went through — was a big step towards avoiding PTSD. By God’s grace, none of us needed post-trauma counseling. We just kept talking to each other as a family about what we felt, thought, did, said to the robbers, and said to each other while we were all tied up, sitting on the floor. We “processed” things together without any clinical guidelines. We are just a talkative family, that’s all. We talked ourselves out of our trauma.

    To this day, I remember how  people would stop me or go to me — in a bookstore, at a mall, in a drugstore, in church — and ask me how we dealt with sickness in the family, a traumatic experience (like the robbery), how we went through the grief of losing a loved one…

    It’s never easy to talk about these things. Reliving the memories isn’t easy. But glossing over the pain, diluting the harsh realities, avoiding hard issues by over-spiritualizing them or burying them in Christianese won’t help anyone. Least of all me.

    Someone very wise said something like this — We reach more people with our pain, rather than with our success stories. I couldn’t agree more!