Catholic Spirituality,  prayer,  social media,  Suffering

Drowning in plain sight

I was texting with a friend yesterday and was honored to be trusted with a little piece of her story, a little glimpse of the heavy burden she is carrying right now. As our brief exchange came to a close, I told her something I want to tell you all, and it’s that I think a lot of people are drowning a little in plain sight right now.

After I’d moved on with my day, the exchange stuck in my head because from the outside, I’d had no real idea of the burden she was carrying. Social media contributes to that phenomenon, no doubt, but so does the typically frantic pace and kind of insular tendency of modern life, and maybe it’s always been that way and what do I know anyway, a barely-qualifies Millenial with a bunch of kids running around her house and too much time spent inside her own head.

But I do know this, and it’s that everyone I know – to a fault, every single person – is struggling with something, is fighting some great battle.

Maybe it isn’t appropriate to share every detail with every person you bump into, whether virtually or in vivo, but maybe it is appropriate and necessary to share more than we do. We can’t all be “fine” all the time. I actually hate the social nicety more than I can adequately express in words.

Earlier this month my “grandfather” died. He was not my grandfather by blood or relation, but by relationship. And as I stood in line at a grocery store later that night I was crying, and I was mentally chastising myself for crying because it’s so embarrassing to cry in public, and get a grip and pay for this kombucha and get the hell out to your car. And also because grief is weird and it comes in waves, crashing down at inconvenient moments in the produce section and then ebbing back, leaving you red eyed and congested and inexplicably weird for the requisitely surface level social exchange you are summoned to have with this perfect stranger handing you a receipt.

“How is your night going?”

“Fine. Yours?”

Eyes red and nose visibly running. We both knew I was lying, but what was there to be done about it? I couldn’t ask this total stranger to carry my burden, besides, he could just as likely drop it as pick it up.

You’re not allowed to feel things very deeply or very authentically in this culture.

And if you do, you’re a little weird. A little inconvenient. Too intense. And sure, there are people who are safe and less safe to be vulnerable with, but I’ve always struggled with being vulnerable with even the safest people, and in even the most intimate relationships, because here’s the thing: when you express vulnerability, you are expressing a need that you have to someone, revealing an imperfection that is humiliating in some degree. And pride revolts, sickened by the thought of appearing needy or flawed or frail.

I have found, particularly in this past year as our family has walked through some major challenges, many of which revolve around me and my particular set of wounds in need of tending, that it is precisely in revealing the frailty and the neediness that the generous offers of strength, of prayers, and of support are offered in return.

When we let people see our grossness, our inconvenience, our mess, we invite them in to do something about it, whether through prayer, compassion and accompaniment, or material support. And those are all ways that we are called to live out our Christian identities, to be Christ to a hurting world awash in pain.

So whose idea is it then that we hide our scars from each other, putting on a brave, blank face and stuffing down the pain?

Probably not God’s.

I have seen firsthand this past year that in offering my friends, my siblings, and most especially my dear husband the opportunity to come into my pain and accompany me in bearing the crushing weight of my cross, they are manifesting Christ to me.

And all the times I’ve railed against Him in pain or in searing alone-ness, begging Him to reveal the path, alleviate the suffering…almost to a fault, those have been the moments when I am clutching my pain tightly to my chest, refusing to offer even a sliver of it to anyone else, to some member of His body who could very well be the incarnate answer to that desperate prayer I am flinging heavenward.

My pride and my preoccupation with not being “a burden” to anyone keeps me from hearing His answer, from feeling the merciful touch of His providence through the arms and words of other people. And apart from leaving me marooned in my pain and navel gazing into my seemingly intractable problems, it robs people of the chance to live out the Gospel.

Because if there are no beggars to shelter, no naked to clothe, no hungry to nourish, then this thing we call Christianity is all a rather dry academic exercise in theoretical virtue and tidy maxims for happy living.

Sometimes I am the beggar. Most of the time, it feels like, lately.

And I need to beg, to have my friends drop my mat in through the roof, carry me down to the pool, yell for Jesus to turn around and come back into town, to do something miraculous, to intervene.

And that miracle might well come through another person, who might be perfectly willing to take all your kids for the afternoon to give you break, who might spend hours and hundreds of dollars helping you stage your house to sell, who might spend 10 minutes during the insanity of the dinnertime crunch to hide in her bathroom with her phone and listen to you cry, who might book a flight to come see you, or send some love through amazon that is shaped like earrings, but you know it’s actually a hug.

I hope if you’re carrying something heavy today you have someone you can trust to put a shoulder under the load with you. Whether it’s an addiction to pornography, a spouse with a drug problem, an unplanned pregnancy, a mental health crisis, a job loss, a searing grief, some kind of spiritual bondage, or a hopeless medial diagnosis.

Everyone is struggling with something.

Let’s not struggle alone.

And let’s be bold in receiving one another’s burdens. Let’s be radically countercultural in our willingness to encounter, to lean in, to put down whatever it is that we are presently engrossed with and be eternally present, in that moment of neediness, to the beggar in the doorway.

We are all beggars. We are all broken. And you are not alone.

(A special shout out to my team of prayer warriors who have carried me so tirelessly this year, and who are just a text message away, always willing to take up arms when my pride gives way long enough to tap out a quick SOS. K, E, M, and S, you know who you are.)



  • Julie

    Beautifully said, Jenny. I remember after having child number 7, I didn’t think I should burden friends with bringing meals. Then a friend said to me, “How can I practice charity if you don’t let me?” Such a gentle reminder that we are all called to serve God by serving neighbor. God bless you!

  • Ann-Marie

    Pride. The pride. So much pride. A friend asked me this weekend how we were celebrating our daughter turning one. I told her flatly that we weren’t. I was too stressed out with other things. She told me she would make cupcakes and bring them on her birthday. And she did. And they were beautiful and super tasty. And in her generosity of offering to do that, it gave me the help I needed to invite Grandparents and Godparents over to celebrate our sweet girl. It was good. And it wouldn’t have happened without her offering.

  • Diana

    This is so so so true. I’ve tried to be more honest about things and the more I do it the easier it is but still…also tempting to want to be independent and keep things inside and all of that. But there is real grace in keeping it real.

  • Maggie

    Well said. One of my favorite maxims is “Be kind. Everyone you know is fighting a hard battle.” I just have to remember I am also one of those people fighting.

  • Drusilla Barron

    So spot on.

    When I was mourning the deaths of my parents and having crying jags at all the wrong moments, I eventually found myself responding to “How is your day?” from the clerks and assistants and others with whom I shared temporary relationships by saying, “Not so good,” or “It’s a difficult day.” I never gave more details: I was just so tired of saying, “Fine,” while tears ran down my cheeks and my nose and eyes were all red and puffy. Each them wished me well and hoped things would improve. Some said they would pray for me. Even sharing a minimum amount of my pain invited great charity and love from strangers.

  • Kristen

    A few years ago, someone pointed out to me that, when we read in Scripture about the washing of the feet, many (perhaps, in our culture, most) of us focus on following in the role of Christ. Which is good and holy and necessary – offering service to others. But how much harder is it for some of us to see ourselves also in the role of the Apostles – allowing someone we love, admire, and wish to serve to kneel down and wash our feet, offering us back love, service, and tenderness? Personally, I can’t imagine the discomfort and the dissonance of watching the King of the Universe kneel down in front of me for such a task, even though He tells me it’s right and good. Yet, after my friend pointed it out, that seems to me to be one of the (hard) messages of that passage.

    Thank you for sharing this post – it was definitely something I needed to be reminded of this Lent!

  • Melita

    When I had my third baby I was blindsighted by a deep and terrible postpartum depression. I hid it from my friends thinking that I could pull through on my own. Then it got so very bad that I felt like I was being crushed under the weight of it. I sincerely felt that I was a burden on everyone and that the entire world would be better off without me. I tried to talk with a few friends but they always said “no! You’re always so happy! It’s just the blues! Pray more!” I didn’t really make them hear me. When I finally felt I could go on any longer, in a completely desperate cry for help, I posted a comment on the Faith and Family community site, the only Catholic site I knew of at the time. It was a terribly humiliating thing to do, even being anonymous. Within 15 minutes there were 10 posts from other women from all around the country, encourageing me to seek help from my doctors. They wrote that they had been through it… that I wasn’t crazy and that I was not alone. I was totally floored. I sat down with my three little babies and cried and cried. The comments kept pouring in for hours. I feel like that day, those hours, those ladies who took the time to reply to my difficult post… those ladies saved my life. That was 8 years ago. God granted help and healing for me beginning with that day. We now have three more children I have been able to handle my bouts of depression bra cause of the tools I learned that year. Now, I feel deeply called to reach out to anyone who seem like they need a friend or a listening ear. I actually feel Christ leading me to these people. It is always such a gift, such an intense grace to just be there with someone in their pain, to hold them through tears, and certainly, to be held by other.
    I know Christ’s love was poured out to me that day I finally cried out for help. Praise God for all the women who rised me up from the dead that day. I feel their strength holding me still:)

  • Maria

    I think PART of this is a weird manifestation of American culture. To stop myself for a second and then continue, I don’t think the why matters all that much, I’m just rambling. Anyway.. we have the independence thing taken to the absurd. When I went into the Air Force and started learning Russian (ie the thing I went into the military to do, interpret and such), the teaching teams were made up of native Russian speakers (unlike universities, where you have Americans teaching non-native languages), all of whom had come over before the collapse of the USSR, and one of the strangest things they noticed in our culture was how everyone’s requisite question was “how are you?” but that nobody ever actually cared how you were, or even if they did, they weren’t actually expecting you to stop and tell them how you are, and it’d be really awkward for them if you did. Sort of funny to me, because the nonsmiling Soviets are regularly made to be antisocial and business-like, yet they were complaining that the smiley, happy-ending Americans were uncaring. But also not funny, because it’s true! And like you said and like Julie said in the other comment, it carries over to much deeper than the ‘how are you’/’great’ interactions into the having to put on a good front always for others’ peace of mind or even the doctor-assisted suicide and/or abortion, because how could I burden my boyfriend/family/others with this illegitimately conceived child or my intensive-care-requiring maladies.. And it probably is indeed pride. I know that’s *MY* reason. I don’t want people to be bothered to bring me meals because I can do it on my own (yes, with four or five others running around, yes with my no-paid-leave husband going back to work the day after we get home from the hospital the day after birth, yes I can also make sure the house is clutter-free and clean concurrently, yes I can also take care of the chickens, why would I need help? whaaaaat!) It’s strange because I can’t identify what further motivates that weird pride, that’s where I can’t help but wonder if it’s culture, like ‘we don’t need no charity’ culture.

    Well, there’s a long stream of consciousness ramble for you. But I agree with what you are saying here and I think maybe that our grassroots attempts to create real communities based on families and charity are the antidote.

  • Gina

    Thank you for this. I have been drowning, but I’m not sure I realized just how bad it was until I talked with someone yesterday and bared my soul a little bit. It allowed this friend to shine a light on the solution, which has been in front of my face, but I have been too blinded by sorrow to see it. I believe that my sweet Daddy, who died 5 months ago yesterday, led me to your post, and then led me to talk to this friend.

    I am sorry about your grandfather. Thank you for being brave enough to be vulnerable.

    • Jenny Uebbing

      Thank you Gina, and thank you for your vulnerability. I am sorry for the loss of your daddy, I am sure he will be a powerful intercessor for you. Prayers for the repose of his soul.

  • Caroline

    Goodness I really needed to read this. I too am of the independent, don’t need any help variety. God has been slowly leading me in the direction of acceptance….accepting that I cannot and should not face everything on my own. After the birth of my second child in September I developed such intense PPA and rage (Rage!) that I would lay awake a night overwhelmed and paralyzed by the thought of the fear and anger that suddenly took up residence within me. It was completely and undoubtably affecting my ability to function as a parent and wife. 3 months postpartum I felt an unusually and overwhelmingly strong desire to stop nursing and being too exhausted to battle it, I did. It was an instant transformation. The anxiety and rage disappeared almost overnight. I don’t even remember the first three months of my sons life, and Jenny, here’s the kicker, with the exception of my husband I have yet to tell anyone. No. One. Knows. I was basically blacked out for three months and My closest and dearest friends still think I stopped nursing because of low milk supply.
    I’m so grateful for pieces like this….for the encouragement that all of us need but are too scared to talk about. Thank you.

  • Sarah

    On the other hand, allowing someone with whom you barely know to unleash their sorrows upon you can be uncomfortable. It’s a release for the other person, but many of us are afraid to become someone’s tissue, especially if we barely know the other person. Once that person opens up one time, they trust you, and they might always expect you to share their grief (sadly, some people have worse luck than others and tend to suffer grief or illness more often). I’d like to do God’s work and relieve others’ suffering, but I can’t always become the other person’s tissue. I’m afraid to commit because I’m afraid I’d become the one who is always sought out for comfort. I’ll commit to family and friends, but to the person ringing up my groceries, I don’t know. Yes, I know I’m possibly a bad person and a bad Christian for saying all of this.

    • Maria

      I doubt it’s that you’re a bad person, you’re probably a normal person. No one really likes (well without sufficient practice doing it until it becomes no big deal or without enough grace or what have you) that kind of thing, being taken advantage of in some form or another (the way we refer to it is revealing!). I mean on the one hand, we CAN do those things and we maybe SHOULD do those things, but on the other hand if you try and remember the actual definition of love, ie doing/willing what is good (best) for the other, than you can assess further based on that. If you are enabling defeatism and pessimism and hopelessness and victimhood by being sympathetic to constant complaining and such, then of course try and find a way to not do that. But if you’ve been blessed with the gift of being a good listener and you’d really just rather not help when it’s legitimately required, then maybe that’s worth trying to cultivate even if it’s not what you’d prefer? Assuming, as always, that all your vocational obligations (kids, husband, meals, house, whatever) are taken care of.

      Not trying to teach and such, just remembering a similar situation in which I thought all this through. It wasn’t a listening situation, but one in which help was requested many times more frequently than I’d preferred. I had a really hard time reconciling the ideal whereby we help those in need and don’t think of ourselves, and my feeling taken advantage of and resentful that I had to be the one to turn down requests for help and be the jerk rather than the person realizing they were being needy. (In hindsight we were both being selfish, me in looking for a way to help less cuz I didn’t feel like it and that person in requesting help whenever it was even possible).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *