Whew! We made it! These last 10 lessons focus on loving others well, including your spouse and those walking through a valley. Feel free to go back and read numbers 1-10 and 11-20. I had an entire decade to learn these things, so I know it’s a lot to process.
21. Marriage is work.
Fifteen years, people. I don’t feel old enough to be married that long. When Steve and I started out, I was so excited to finally be living in the same state that I thought all would be easy and bliss. But merging households, temperaments, expectations, and more hasn’t always been easy. The fact is, if Steve and I look in the mirror, there are two sinners staring back at us. But what does God do with sinners? He extends grace. And we need to do the same with our spouses. (Oh, and read Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages!* It has great insight on how to love your spouse the way they need to be loved. You may not be speaking your spouse’s language, and that can make all of the difference.)
22. Having a goal with your spouse is fun and rewarding.
Years ago, my husband and I read Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover* and did the “debt snowball” to pay off debt. While we both went from spenders to gazelle-intense “nerds,” we had genuine fun while meeting that goal together (and some not-so-fun times, like when I’d run out of my “fun money” by the 20th and ask for a loan!). By God’s grace, we paid off tens of thousands of dollars in 19 months (all before we reached our 30s). We were able to pay for a fence, vacations, and fertility treatments all in cash after that. Following that success, we facilitated a small group through Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, another fun joint venture. In recent years, we got away from budgeting, but now we’re back on track – and it’s proving again to be a connection time for us. Admittedly, there are other goals that we CANNOT do together for the health of our marriage – ie painting a deck, yard work, etc. But finding a common goal, whether it’s a small house project or a big adventure, can be a great way for you and your spouse to bond.
23. We must learn to help others grieve well
In my 30s, I experienced copious amounts of grief and heartache. The sudden loss of my mom. Infertility. Pregnancy loss. My traumatic delivery experience. And a devastating diagnosis that changed the trajectory of my life. I also witnessed a friend fight cancer (twice), another friend lose her husband, another lose her mom suddenly, others face miscarriages, still others parent special-needs children, and my mother-in-law face cancer. I’m not writing this to brag on my fortitude, but to say that I’m very familiar with grief. And learning to walk alongside someone in their grief is not only a necessity; it’s a command of God. I’ve read countless articles on grief, lived it, and I can conclude a few things.
- Just show up. Even if you cannot completely empathize, be there. Say something (but see point #2 on what not to say). I remember coming back to work after my mom died and a few co-workers said nothing. I know it could’ve been awkward for them, or they just didn’t know what to say, but a simple “I’m so sorry” would’ve been appreciated. Still others reached out, took me to lunch, or simply left a nice sympathy card on my desk.
- Do not try to rush someone’s grief. Don’t offer trite platitudes or even Bible verses to “get them out of it” – walk through it with them. Grief takes time. Cry with them. Pray with them. If they’re a hugger, hug them.
- Let them talk. Often, simply letting people talk is a great ministry. People in the midst of cancer treatments, medical events, or deep loss need an outlet to someone in the outside world to process their thoughts. They are living in an alternate universe. Their days are nothing like yours. Just let them talk – to relive a day in the hospital, to share a story of their loved one. Don’t try to fix it. Don’t be surprised if they say something dark or morbid. They are processing. A friend recently shared this fitting article by John Piper (Words for the Wind). Listen, weep, restore, don’t reprove.
24. Rejoicing with others can be harder than grieving with them.
A dear friend of mine became a widow in her 30s, and she shared this thought: “If I want to live a life that follows and honors God, I not only have to enter into their suffering, I have to enter their JOY.” She went on to say that “rejoicing with those who rejoice” is difficult when you yourself are brokenhearted or lacking something (a husband, a job, a baby, a new home, etc.). I’ve thought about this a lot since she shared it. There have been times that I have not rejoiced well with others because my longing heart was too tender. And there have been occasions that God has given me supernatural grace to join the celebration even though my own life was lacking. God commands us to do both – rejoice and mourn with others. We need to learn to do them well, despite ourselves. We don’t need to rush our own grief, but give God those longings and heartaches, while we put others first.
25. Be teachable.
Have a heart that’s willing to listen to and learn from others. In your job. As a parent. In finances. In spiritual matters. In your marriage. I may have gathered wisdom as I roll into my 40s, but I definitely have not arrived yet. I’ve had unplanned, casual teaching moments from ladies I admire and have also benefitted from deliberate mentoring relationships. Be willing to say “I haven’t figured it all out yet.”
26. Be a teacher.
Yes, you’re still a work in progress (me, too!), but you have others coming behind you that need your wisdom. Your lessons learned – even those learned from your mistakes. God is faithful and can redeem all things. Invest in others. Share your life and your experiences.
27. Give grace.
We don’t know someone’s story just by looking at them or even how they act. It could be a lifetime of hurt or a recent event – a shocking diagnosis, a job loss, a difficult morning, or everyday frustrations that just mess up your day. Give a simple smile, a kind word, let them go ahead of you in the grocery store. Admittedly, I’ve often expected grace when I haven’t extended it (especially in my home). I still have much room for improvement in this area.
28. Laugh – a lot.
Laugh. At yourself. At irony. At silly things. In the middle of hard things. Watch a silly show. Relive a funny memory. Laugh when you are so frustrated you could scream. Realize many moments do not deserve the heaviness they get credit for. Laughter has saved my sanity in the ICU (beating people at Wheel of Fortune while on heavy pain meds IS pretty funny). Moments of levity have given me much-needed breaks from heartache.
29. Comparison is a joy killer.
While I’m known to be a bit competitive in the board game arena, comparison and competition in life can steal your joy. Others may have things you want and admire: babies, a house, an impressive degree, a good job, a thriving ministry, musical or athletic ability, success, friendships. Even comparing our sorrows is detrimental to our spiritual well-being. God has us each on our own paths. For example, my kindergartner has declared himself the “baddest of the goodest” in his class. He loves school, but he is a strong-willed, curious, fun-loving, wiggly little man. He was telling me about other kids in his class who are the “goodest of the goodest” and ALWAYS get green stickers for the day. I told him that we’re proud of him for doing HIS best, and we didn’t expect him to be anyone else. Yes, we teach and train him, but I cannot put this guy in a box – he’d wiggle right out of it. So own your story. Practice gratitude. Replace the lies of Satan (“I deserve…,” “I wish we had…,” “They don’t deserve…”) with what God says:
- A good God writes my story, so I can endure. “…let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us (ie comparison), and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1b-2 (NASB)
- A good God plans my steps, so I can trust Him wherever I’m at in my story. “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” Proverbs 16:9 (ESV) “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 (KJV)
30. Even as an extrovert, it’s hard meeting new people.
Meeting new people used to barely faze me; in fact, I thrived on it. I don’t know if it’s being an adult, or having this strange diagnosis with an iceberg of history underneath the surface, but meeting new people is…awkward. How much do I tell them? “Hi, I’m-Erica-and-I-have-this-weird-disease-and-I-almost-died-several-times-nice-to-meet-you.” Slow down, Erica. Breathe. Smile. Be normal. They don’t need to know your whole story TODAY.
So, there you go. Nice to meet ya. I’m Erica. I’m 40 years old (gulp). Thanks for sticking with it and reading this long list. We serve a good God. As I look back over the last decade – full of heartache and some of the best days of my life – I can say with confidence, “Oh, HIS goodness!”
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