All illustrations: Michael Masters

“Everybody is Happy, Except Me”

When trouble hits, do you feel this way compared to the world around you?

On a relatively good day (I’m optimistic, in control, ready for new challenges) there’s a heightened awareness to the condition of my relationships. On a good day, when I look around, I can see people who are doing fairly well for themselves, and others who are struggling. All in all, the affairs of those within my network are easily discernible, for better or for worse.

But when I’ve fallen into dark days, it’s as if the landscape is littered with people sipping lattes, grinning from ear to ear, riding ponies across a green meadow — and then me…sitting, slumped over in a mud puddle with a rain cloud hovering directly overhead. It is in those moments I am convinced that everybody is happy, except me.

Of course, if we have a clear head about us, we know this is not true. But when you’re in that pit of despair, the truth is blurry. I hope this article will give us some perspective in times of trouble by realizing:

In difficult circumstances — on our own, without deep, personal relationships — our resources are fewer and our solutions are shallower.

First, a Bit of Context…

in my professional life, as a designer, I like to view my relationships within the context of a community - a connected network of people with whom I regularly interact. Inside of this network are two groups. The first includes people with whom I am very close — ‘My Circle’. They include: God, family, friends, the church, and a handful of creative professionals I know and trust.

And then there is everybody else I’ve connected with at some point; a diverse pool of acquaintances, coming and going, doing what they do. ‘The Fringe’. These are the folks who are not as intimately connected to me as my Circle, but are still valuable to me. Our interactions are usually brief. We have unique gifts to exchange. Some show up to give. Some have needs, and the fringe is their resource. Others interact with the fringe to keep up with their communities and world. It is there that we reminisce with old friends. We connect with new friends. We enter and exit as we please, like cars on a highway.

The Truth About ‘The Fringe’

If we consider the difference between our circles and the fringe, we can see that:

  • Our Circle is close. The Fringe is distant.
  • Our Circle runs deep. The Fringe is shallow.
  • Our Circle is transparent. The Fringe can be quite fuzzy.

Dealing with thoughts like “You are alone in your trouble”, requires a realistic perspective about our relationships. That’s not easy to arrive at in the moment. Though, as we observe false presumptions with a clear head, we can prepare ourselves for the dark days by asking a key question:

What do we really know about the fringe?
Probably a lot less than we think.

What we know about them is directly proportional to what they share with us. They paint the pictures. We visit their gallery. If we care about them, we will lean in to ask questions, to understand them more deeply. Until then, what we know is merely surface level information.

For this reason, we should always be cautious about comparing our own lives to those on the fringe, especially in moments of crisis. It is in those times that we become hyper-aware of the lie that other people have no trouble, when the truth is, nobody can escape trouble in this life.

They paint the pictures. We visit their gallery.

If the Fringe is a highway, than your Circle is a quiet side street.

When facing difficulties, reach out to a close friend, pastor, counselor, or relative; somebody that cares about you and wants to see that you make it to the other side. They will pray with you, walk with you in the valleys, and usher you towards a place of recovery and growth. With faith (and intentionality), you can look any storm in the eye, grab your umbrella, and push forward. And while your trouble remains, you have peace within it.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” James 1:2–3

Benders are rare. Breakers are everywhere.

When you need advice, there are always people willing to help, if you simply ask for it. Realize, though, how vulnerable you can be when in distress. Don’t assume that everybody has your best interest at heart. Ask yourself: “Will the help I’m seeking strengthen my faith, or weaken it?”

In this world, when looking for help, you will find two types of people — Benders and Breakers. Both can exist within your circle or on the fringe. They can be anywhere. (It’s important to note that Benders can also be Breakers at times, and vice versa. But, I’m finding that most people tend to have a disposition toward one or the other.)

Benders usually stand alone. They are the ones with a careful, discerning eye. They will not pull punches with the people they care about. They will support you, but they are not afraid to give it to you straight. They will not give you advice just to hear themselves talk, or to appear intelligent. In fact, it is not unlike a Bender to say, “Gee, I don’t know.”

Benders tend to be realistic when assessing your problem. Thus, the solutions they offer will not always be black and white, or quick and easy. Their ultimate desire is to help YOU figure things out for yourself; to bend you.

Then there are Breakers. These are the people who have a lot to say about everything, and not one word has the slightest ray of hope in it. Their advice is usually tailored to influence you to serve their purposes or to become more like them. Breakers are a miserable bunch, and they often flock together. They can be loud and obnoxious, or calm and composed.

Your inquiry is usually their cue to hop up onto the soapbox, making sure everybody within earshot gets the chance to witness their groundbreaking critique. Too many questions will disrupt and frustrate them. They have little patience for unconventional ideas. Their negative influence will cause you to question your own faith and values. I often wonder if they only exist to break things. In times of trouble, keep Breakers at an arm’s length.

A sad truth is that Breakers can also exist within your circle. There have been trials in my life when I reached out to somebody I loved. I often left conversations with a burden bigger than I started with. Worse yet, that person’s troubles were also increased because they were now worrying about me! An unhealthy perspective — even with the best intentions — will still drag you further down. One negative thread from somebody you trust can unravel you, and dark clouds quickly develop in your emotional atmosphere. Don’t let it happen!

Express love to the Breakers in your circle with boundaries that YOU decide (likely with the help of a counselor or pastor). You may decide that a healthy distance is in order for the time being, if an understanding can’t be reached initially. Any change will take some getting used to. Be firm, but also be patient with your loved ones. In time, the people with whom you reciprocate mutual respect may turn out to be your most dependable Benders.

So, Are You in Trouble?

  1. Don’t compare your life to those on the fringe.
  2. Reach out to the Benders in your circle, when you need them.
  3. Keep Breakers at an arm's length.
  4. Faith delivers peace during life’s storms. Joy is your umbrella. Hang in there!
Please share this with Your Circle. Tag the Benders in your own life.

(Note: I wrote this piece to help prepare people for trouble and as a resource to those who may be in a valley right now. I hope that you can use the tools within this article to be the Bender yourself as well; to bring healing to those you care about.

Also: I am sensitive to those with profoundly difficult life circumstances, who may have needs that require professional mental health resources. Please use this link to screen yourself, if you’re unsure of whether you may need help or not. 
My views here are only meant to give a creatively Christian perspective.
Take my thoughts with a grain of salt. But open the Bible for a source without fault!)

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