I recently read about a gal who had experienced both a bout with cancer and a 2 1/2 year nurse anesthesia program. When asked if she was forced to endure one of the two again, her choice was clear. She would chose cancer. The sentiment is both terrifying and oddly comforting as my husband is in month 10 of a 27 month crna program. So we aren’t total weaklings who just can’t hack it. It is stinkin’ hard. And in one student’s opinion, harder than cancer.
In addition to the fact that my husband is the ripe old age of 41, married with 3 children, and attending a school three states away from our support system of 20+ years, the program requirements themselves are monumental. It is, without a doubt, one of the most difficult challenges he has ever faced. And I am pretty much just a spectator of the roller coaster ride from “you know where” that is crna school. Day after day, I witness the physical, emotional, mental and, yes, spiritual battles my husband endures. The truth is, we were warned about how difficult it would be and we still chose this battle. And the other truth is, it’s still worse than bad. I hurt deeply watching my husband’s struggle. And I just want to make it all better.
A few weeks into this third semester, my husband came home from a particularly awful day in the OR. He had, once again, been berated in front of the entire staff, his first exam was coming up in a few days, and he needed to spend hours preparing for upcoming cases the following day. I could almost see the weight of the world sitting there on his shoulders as he slumped down on the couch with his head in his hands. He was reaching a breaking point. In 14 years of marriage, I had never seen him like that. And it terrified me. Immediately, I did what I do best… I started talking.
I reminded him of all the good things that were happening, the progress he had made, every positive I could think of. Then I listed all the “at leasts”. I told him how bad it could be but wasn’t, perhaps implying that he should be feeling grateful instead of defeated. Finally, I optimistically reminded him that he only had a few months in this, the worst semester, and that the time would fly by. He just sat there as I rattled on and on. His posture didn’t change and he said nothing. Then, from out of nowhere, I heard a voice loud and clear in my head. “Stop talking.” Huh? “Just be quiet.” What? How could that possibly be helpful?
Whatever I was doing didn’t seem to be working, so I might as well give it a try. (It was harder than I thought.) But I did it. I bit my lip and I shut up. Then I moved over closer, put my hand on his knee and just sat there. Instead of my help, I gave him my presence. And in those next few moments together, we had one of the most bonding experiences of our marriage. It was a moment of deep connection to each other and to God.
It turns out that the last thing my husband needed was for me to make it all better. He didn’t need my list of positives vs. negatives or words of encouragement or calendar countdowns to the end of the trial. What my husband needed was for me to just sit with him in the hard stuff, in the struggle, in the sadness. What I didn’t realize is that he needed to feel the weight of his burden and the enormity of the task ahead. Because it was in his helplessness and despair that God met him. In his weakness, he realized his deep need for God’s strength. He was then able to surrender that which he could not control and cry out to God for strength to continue.
This little scenario has made a profound impact on my idea of what it means to come alongside and support those I love. I recognize that my need to talk my husband out of his fear and pain has a lot more to do with my own unease than it does with actually helping him. I am starting to see that I often need him to be okay so that I can be okay. Because his pain makes me uncomfortable. And that, my friends, is classic codependence.
I now realize that while I so desperately want to make it all better for my husband, my children, and my friends, that may not be what they need at all. Maybe God is actually leading them into the valley where they will hear the voice of their Shepherd and a deep work of the Spirit will move them forward on their sanctification journey. And maybe instead of trying to minimize and move them past their pain, God is calling me to courageously enter into the valley with them. I am learning that what they need most from me is a listening ear, compassion, and most of all, my presence. They need to know they aren’t alone in their struggle. And I need to learn to stop trying to rescue them from their struggle, which might just be exactly where God wants them.
Held by Him,