That Sucks! The words I think but never say when expressing compassion for trials

As a teenager I often used the word “sucks.” It was a common slang word to express disgust or discontent of which I felt a lot as a teenager. One day I was talking to my parents in their bedroom and said “sucks.” My dad stopped me and said, “Never say that word again.” “What word?” I said. I didn’t even know what I’d said that he thought was offensive. He explained that “sucks” was a vulgar word and I could use better words to express myself. Since then I’ve avoided saying it. But recently I’ve thought it a lot.

 

While visiting my daughter’s Relief Society, a meeting for women, we were discussing trials and one woman raised her hand and said “Sometimes the only appropriate thing to say to someone going through a trial is ‘That sucks.'” At first I felt uncomfortable with the words she used, but now I think she’s right. Saying it about every little thing that goes wrong like I did when I was a teenager is inappropriate, but when hard trials happen those words express our disappointment and compassion.

 

From the last month, here are some things that suck:

 

A friend’s twenty-four year-old son has colon cancer.

A friend’s father has stage 4 cancer and only a few months to live.

My teenage niece had to stop going to school because she’s very sick, is losing weight, and we don’t know why.

Our foreign exchange student visited with us from Switzerland and when she flew home, her luggage was lost for about a week.

My friend’s car broke down on the way home from her daughter’s wedding in California.

 

I won’t say out loud, “That sucks,” but I might say, “That’s awful” or “That’s rough” or “That’s hard.” A few weeks after our dog died, I saw our veterinarian and he asked how I was doing. I told him that now that the children have started school it’s very lonely and quiet in the house without our dog. He said, “That’s really hard. Yes, that’s hard.” It made me feel better.

 

It’s hard to know if you’ve said the right thing. Many years ago I heard that you should never say, “I understand what you’re going through” when people are facing a trial. Most of the time you haven’t gone through what they’re going through so you can’t understand and even if you’ve gone through something similar, you aren’t that person having that exact problem. So to be more compassionate I say, “I’ve never had that happen. I don’t understand what it feels like, but I’m thinking of you and praying for you.” Recently my sister-in-law told me that after a trial she had, I wrote her a letter and told her I couldn’t understand what she was going through and offered sympathy. She took my words as almost a mocking of her trial and that I was being insensitive by telling her I couldn’t understand. Of course that’s not what I meant and later after she was not so overcome with grief, she understood.

 

What is the right thing to say? Two years ago my daughter miscarried twins. Another sister-in-law lovingly contacted my daughter and said, “No one will ever say the right thing to you, because the only right thing is, ‘I will fix this.'”

 

The Savior, Jesus Christ, is the only one who can truly fix our problems. And He most often doesn’t do that by taking them away. He offers us solace when we pray, strength when we think we can’t go on, service from others, and a softened heart to notice our blessings amidst our trials. The right thing for us to do when others are suffering is to love them, not avoid them, and hope that after their grief has dissipated they will realize that our words were meant with love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

To serve and be served: Why Mormons are so good at helping each other and why I’m not, sometimes.

Mormons are known for serving within our church groups. We take dinners, watch each other’s children, run scout groups, teach Sunday classes, pack boxes, clean, and many other services. We do this because we are a covenant keeping people.

 

A covenant is an eternally binding promise between man and God. Man agrees to obey a commandment and God promises blessings. Covenants are made through ordinances or performances. Baptism is one of those ordinances. When baptized we promise to take upon ourselves Jesus Christ’s name, to always remember Him, to keep His commandments, and to serve Him. We serve Jesus Christ by serving our fellow men and especially serving those who have also made covenants, other members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Alma, a prophet from The Book of Mormon,¬†taught his people that “as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;..and are willing to mourn with those that mourn…and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places…if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him that ye will serve him, and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?” (Mosiah 18:8-10).

 

Currently I am a Relief Society President in my ward or congregation. One of my responsibilities is to be aware of trials and sufferings and coordinate service efforts within our ward. This task can be daunting. I’ve un-righteously wished that I could be the one with trials so others could serve me. I received my desire this summer.

 

A few weeks ago our business office burned. I thought that if there was ever a time that someone should be serving me, it was now. If there was a time that I should not be expected to help others, it was now. If there was a time where I should be allowed to be grumpy and selfish, it was now. I wanted my regular life to be on hold while we sorted through the destruction and grief mentally and physically.

 

The day of the fire my husband’s brother showed up to help, a friend from church showed up and helped and brought cold drinks, and a couple days later another friend from church made dinner for our family. I was grateful for this service, but I wanted to not be expected to help anyone else besides myself. Many offered to help, but I was too overwhelmed and full of pride and felt like, while we are supposed to serve each other, another Mormon value is to help ourselves. To take care of our own problems. I was unhappy. I kept thinking, I’m a covenant keeping person, and while I know this doesn’t keep me from experiencing trials, does it also mean that I can’t express unhappiness when bad things happen? That I can’t fall apart? That I have to pretend like everything is okay when it isn’t? That I have to keep on helping others?

 

Four nights after the fire, I complained to my husband.

 

The next morning our dog of eight years couldn’t stand up. At the vet we learned that she had a ruptured tumor in her digestive region and that we’d have to put her to sleep. My two children left their jobs at the pool to join my husband, my nine-year-old son, and me at the vet and say goodbye. I hadn’t cried about the office fire, but we all cried about our dog. My heart was softened. With that grief, that comforting of one another, I was reminded of what I cherished in this life. I didn’t feel resentment anymore and I wanted to help others. I did and because my attitude was right, I was happy instead of resentful.

 

There’s a saying in our church that if we don’t serve with the right attitude, then it’s as if we didn’t serve at all. My husband and I both think that’s not true. We do things all the time even if we don’t want to and people benefit from our service. They still have a meal or their belongings moved even if we have a bad attitude. But I learned from this that I don’t benefit from the service if I have a hard heart. I also learned that serving others with the right attitude helps me not dwell on my own problems. Yes, I have problems. And no, I don’t need to pretend like they don’t exist, but I can find relief from my own problems by helping others.

 

Both Mormon ideas are true, we should serve each other and we should help ourselves. Our employees and tenants worked many hours and I felt great support and love from them. There was a lot our ward members and friends couldn’t help with physically, but they offered their sympathy and asked how we were doing. Mourning with those that mourn and comforting those that stand in need of comfort can be through a physical service, but it can also be through our words and prayers.

 

Again the other day I felt overwhelmed by the amount of things I had to do. As I worked frantically on my list of things to do, I was unhappy and resentful. How was that possible when I’d just been taught to have a soft heart? Later that night we met friends for dinner and I attended a wedding. I was surrounded by people who care about me, who I care about, and I wasn’t just thinking about myself. That’s the key. Don’t dwell on my own problems.