Let’s contemplate gifts for a moment. We buy them; we give them; we get them. We mark happy milestones along the way of life with gifts- little mementos that bring us joy, and it’s beautiful; it is, but can we talk about the gift that might mean the most to that person you know who’s struggling with migraines or other chronic illnesses?
Silence. Yes, that’s right. Total peace and quiet.
Let me recap the last few years of my life: major medical diagnoses, medication management, and lots and lots of hospital rooms. My well-meaning friends and family all provide counsel on the tips and tricks and magic potions they’ve read about. They heard about the latest and greatest cure, and they’re convinced I should try it. There’s also been advice concerning my child rearing, Bible studies, and essential oil use for everyday life. Even my least acquainted friends have great ideas they’ve pulled from Pinterest or seen in the latest issue of Web MD. Sometimes, most times even, these tips, tricks, potions, and pins come from a good heart, and I appreciate those people.
But sometimes the comments hurt. Sometimes they’re jagged, thoughtless, and unkind.
About six weeks ago, I started losing sleep at a rapidly concerning pace. I knew what the problem was, but I was too afraid to seek out a solution, because I was afraid of what people might think or say. I suffered for weeks. My body pushed itself to the brink, and I ended up with an eleven-day migraine, which landed me four days in a hospital bed, recouping. When I told my doctor the problem, she asked why I delayed in seeking help. The answer? Some people in my circle don’t make a practice of silence, and I just wanted to glide through life without any more unsolicited advice.
I know this happens in your circles, too. Your marriage, your parenting, and your health decisions come to center stage during dinner with the extended family, and you grow to dread these functions, because Aunt Martha poignantly and vocally disagrees with how you live your life and what avenues you pursue for your healing.
How do we resolve this?
Silence. Silence is golden. Just shut up. Respectfully, of course. Opinions aren’t always the gift of choice. Because your friend with migraines or other chronic illnesses is doing the best he can. He has a deep-rooted value system, visits his doctor regularly, keeps up with his medications, and drinks soy milk instead of cow’s milk, because he simply prefers the taste. He doesn’t need lectures or suggestions, but he does need your support, because he’s really struggling to keep his head above the looming chronic illness waters. Your forceful interjections aren’t helpful.
If you really want to lend advice, start by lending a listening ear, first. Be a friend. Offer a hug. Drop off dinner. Babysit the kids. Fold the back-logged loads of laundry. The act of quiet support will build trust, and trust lends itself to open doors. Save your opinions for the open-door moments, and then, let your well-studied and never harsh brilliance shine. Your friend who’s suffering will thank you.