Someone you love is knee-deep in the struggles and troubles of life. They might be wondering how they got into their current mess and if they'll ever get out. If God has forgotten them. And you are constantly wondering what you can say and do to help.
Certainly, you want to be a compassionate, trustworthy and loving listener. But don't forget about the gifts of humor and reframing to improve someone's perspective.
Consider sharing one of Ronald Reagan's favorite jokes:
“The joke concerns twin boys of five or six. Worried that the boys had developed extreme personalities – one was a total pessimist, the other a total optimist – their parents took them to a psychiatrist.”
“First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys. But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears. 'What's the matter?' the psychiatrist asked, baffled. 'Don't you want to play with any of the toys?' 'Yes,' the little boy bawled, 'but if I did I'd only break them.'”
“Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist. Then he clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands. 'What do you think you're doing?' the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist. 'With all this manure,' the little boy replied, beaming, 'there must be a pony in here somewhere!'”
– excerpted from How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life by Peter Robinson
That concluding proclamation, “there must be a pony in here somewhere!” is an outlook that can serve us all well.
Let’s face it. Hard things happen. We face disappointment, rejection, failure and heartbreak. People betray us. Business plans fail. Earthquakes and hurricanes strike. We find ourselves knee deep in emotional or financial “manure,” and are faced with the decision of how to respond. Do we cry and wallow in the yuck, thinking we’ll be stuck there forever? Or do we look for the “pony,” for the reasons to be thankful, and take the first step in the right direction. And then the next step?
I’m not encouraging anyone to ignore grief and pain. Dealing realistically and bravely with life’s hard experiences is essential for healing and for growth. But there is also great benefit to asking God to show you the positives even in the darkest situations.
Call me Pollyanna, but I'm convinced that we can find blessings and benefits amidst even the most painful experiences. We grow closer to God in our pain. We realize the comfort and strength He gives us. We are blessed by loving friends and family. We learn to treasure God's faithfulness when we've been disappointed by people.
Recently, I had my own “there must be a pony in here somewhere” moment. I was dreading some upcoming days that were excruciatingly painful anniversaries. Almost bracing myself for emotional seismic shock, I was gritting my teeth and reminding myself that those days would pass and I would survive. And then I had a reframing moment. It was almost as though a lightbulb went off in my head! I realized that instead of dreading the remembrance of those days, I should celebrate . God had revealed some very painful truth to me on those days, truth that I needed to know. And, as Jesus said, “you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) And it did.
How about you? Can you encourage someone to reframe a challenging situation in their life? To believe “there’s a pony in here somewhere?" To help them look for treasures hidden in the darkness? It's one of the greatest ways to encourage someone you love.