For every clever platitude that’s met with a “Hallelujah” there’s often a loud “No way, Jose” waiting in the wings for it too. Some snappy sayings contain just enough truth to be somewhat helpful and just enough bologna to make a big ol’ sandwich (one reason why social media is both tasty and tricky).
At any rate, I’d imagine you’ve heard the popular saying: The present is a present. It’s an ode to falling in love with each moment as a gift. Jumping ahead to the future only brings anxiety and causes you to miss the glory of every fantastical second because they all are fantastic–or need to be reframed as such, per the cliché—right? We best learn, then, to believe that every tick of the clock is filled with goodness and light and all things amazing, lest time pass us by and we later wish we had adored it all. How shall we relentlessly attitude check ourselves into gratitude for each precious hour? Let us count the ways….
Or not. Yeah, no thanks. You only survive some moments by letting ’em pass, saying good riddance and throwing your focus straight forward into the next thing.
I grant the point, certainly, that if your brain is never in the same time zone or activity that your body is, that’s a bad habit. But believing we won’t really, fully live or will have regrets if we dislike uncomfortable, hard moments seems bogus. We can surely gaze into the future when we don’t so much appreciate the right now—peak at dreams and plan good plans—instead of fibbing that the present is always a present. Yes, a good deal of worry can stem from jumping into tomorrow’s troubles prematurely. But a whole heck of lot of hope can stem from foreseeing its joys. “Where there is no [forward] vision, the people perish” (Prov 29:18).
I usually only find trite truisms troublesome—cute as the little tidbits can be—when they’re dispensed to someone in trauma as though they’re helpful in the heaviest of life’s moments, when someone’s under the weight of serious and immense suffering. It really just tells me that said sharer of pithy sunshine jolts doesn’t really want to understand or join in the reality of what’s happening to said sufferer. And that’s OK. It happens. Not everyone can enter in with energy and empathy. People are allowed to not, if it’s not convenient or they just don’t want to. (Although there are certainly people who, by virtue of position, should but don’t unfortunately. But in every case, respectful silence for someone carrying what you don’t have to or choose not to would be better than shallow or diverting responses.)
But I want to say to you sufferers of trauma who’ve heard ridiculous, generalized nonsense that feels mocking of your misfortune from the relatively comfortable or inappropriately lighthearted peanut gallery, I’m sorry you’ve experienced that. Sometimes even well-intentioned people mistakenly encourage you to make lemonade out of nasty lemons that best go straight into the trash. Thinking every lemon is lemonade-worthy, or that you should be capable of lemonade-making every moment, just minimizes your trauma, I know.
Yep, some experiences are simply best not held onto, relished or cherished but identified as disgusting and cruel and then discarded at first opp. There’s no need to endear yourself to or work harder at loving them, although the consensus seems to be that most of us do like the results of the hard things we’ve gone through after the pain is done and the silver lining appears…after. (That’s one of the intended truths in the cliché, I do realize.) Loving the lessons and rewards from surviving the hard thing is different from loving the hard thing itself. And trying to verbally restructure your current trials into something pretty they haven’t transformed into yet for the sake of someone who doesn’t like to hear about extreme pain is just oxymoronic–they should be comforting you, not you them. Sometimes you’re given…manure. So call it manure. Mature, nonjudgmental people can handle it.
These non-gift moments are your opportune time to grab a vision and jump ahead. Dream, wish, provoke enthusiasm for what can come, and white knuckle those babies until your reality catches up with your grasp on them. It’s the future part of “everything works for good for those who love God” that makes the ugly moments endurable; the “everything” points to the icky nowness of life, or we wouldn’t need that promise to begin with (Romans 8:28). It doesn’t say this moment is all worked out for good, so please don’t quote it to people in the most excruciating moments of their lives as though they should feel better in the right now. It’s a mite insensitive, thank you. The next time you’re being punched in the face, try telling yourself it’s working for good and you should call the ongoing punching a gift. I didn’t think so. That’s disingenuous. No, you’ll duck and weave and escape, if possible. Then, you’ll call that after-moment the gift.
Anyway, in the middle of the hardest experiences, your brain simply doesn’t need the additional job of trying to love pain. It doesn’t sit right with most of us to lie. Plus, telling our feelings what to feel rarely works, especially when they’re entirely valid. But even moreso, follow me, it might inadvertently cause us to accept helplessness, relax complacently into ditches or passively experience traumatic circumstances. Sometimes when we think we’re supposed to be content right where we are, with any old thing we’re going through, we continue to stay, in the name of optimism. But that’s called wishing things would get better. I think optimism is more proactive. What your brain needs is the goal of overcoming, finding a different final word or ending, searching for whether anything can be done to extricate from this horrid thing and then doing it. We’re meant to reject and run from some things, not embrace and hold them when they’re on fire and burning us. Some suffering is optional if we’ll see it. We throw off and put out the fire. We just don’t drink lemonade from that particular lemon.
In fact, the question “Why don’t you learn to view your present as a gift and be content?” can be rather dangerous for someone who needs to be supported in walking away from pain but is mistakenly encouraged to stay and change their attitude about it instead. I mean, there’s great truth in that very same question to someone struggling with a hangnail. But, let’s consider our audience and differentiate our advice based on the gravity of the experience being endured, shall we? Someone living an unacceptable, devastating or deadly present might just find the power to go in search of an acceptable present if given a little encouragement to do so instead of, “Sit tight in misery and learn to rename it a gift.” A gift in their present moment just might be a swift kick in the pants to move on to the next moment, calling the current one too ridiculous to abide.
So since the present is sometimes not OK—not a gift-wrapped delight—it’s OK not to aim to be equally grateful for all moments. It’s OK to plan an escape, envision a future, dream of better days, rely on the rewards of simply surviving. Let the power of the mind’s ability to time travel carry you when what your senses are experiencing threatens you. It’s perfectly acceptable to acknowledge that this moment isn’t easy to love, but the Creator of it is, and His plan to redeem it is real and dependable. It’s alright to count on the fruition of that hope to help you hold on. If the moment stinks, the best thing to do is say so and look up, and maybe far off.
Do we have a responsibility to control our words, attitudes and emotions and not let them control us? Yes, we do—especially anger. Only a fool gives vent to absolutely all that. But I guarantee that nobody can get ahold of and wrestle down their demons and destructive life experiences without facing them, eye to eye, and calling them out. That feat comes with challenging, sometimes overwhelming, feelings and words that only go away when let out, defused and dismissed (obviously in the proper place, without doing damage to another).
I’m also not advocating responsibility avoidance or aiming to dissociate or detach. Even whilst we forward-dream, we must do our now-work. We must handle our stuff, when it’s hard and when it’s easy. We must live and love, no matter what, no excuses. We must face the truth.
And that’s my point, really. Lying about, rose-shading or covering reality in superficial clichés never leads to freedom, and being afraid to tell the truth about how bad some “presents” are is unnecessary (and damaging) shallowness. Maybe it’s been encouraged by a faulty logic system of a culture leaning toward toxic positivity—one that has forgotten how to grieve—and in so doing exchanges the power to truly heal for counterfeit stability and plastic smiles? But masks suffocate. Or maybe we’ve gone too far down the road of worrying that every word we speak manifests the exact trajectory of our future, as though if our tone of voice is somewhat pained or our words tell of the ugly side of life, well we’ve just doomed ourselves to gloom.
But what if those very things free us and our future instead? What if the honest expression of feelings brings healing and the telling of our sad stories is the beginning of writing a new and better one? A good lament releases bottled up pressure after life shakes the fizz right to the top of us until we’re about to explode. And trauma experts say that victims need to tell their stories until they don’t need to anymore.
So, for goodness sake, name the present moment for what it is. Speak the truth. If now is a beautiful gift, say so. If now feels more like drinking an entire bottle of Pepto Bismal or swimming in salt water with fresh wounds, then say so. It’s not the teller of sad-but-true stories that’s negative, it’s the circumstance or person causing the misfortune that’s negative. This is called authenticity, emotional integrity, vulnerability. The emotionally intelligent don’t just hit one feeling tone, just like brilliant, capable, interesting musicians would never utilize just one note. That’s called monotonous, boring, obnoxious, not real music, not real life.
That means as we’re traversing life’s deepest wounds, sufferings and traumas, we don’t have to re-categorize them as less than they are while they’re still happening, in the name of optimism. The truth about the present is the path to freedom, not pretending something is awesome-sauce when it’s clearly horrid. It’s merely a matter of not pretending misery has passed while we’re still waiting for it to go.
Rather, when everything around us piles on, the only really reasonable place to live is in the future, knowing it will be the gift. True optimism tells the truth about the now and the later, with no pretenses or pretending. Heads stuck in the sand are stuck heads, stuck lives. We all need a lot of honesty in our adulting arsenal, because wounds and scrapes can’t be properly dressed and treated if we won’t really look at them. And it’s only a party until gangrene sets in—the inevitable result of not flushing out infections and messes. It takes courage, no doubt. It’s averting our gaze, putting glossy band-aids on deep cuts and people-pleasing the critics of truthful speech that are the easy ways out…for a time…until it’s harder…because chronic wounds set in instead of healthy scars.
Tell your true stories, friends, and then look to your left and right. Those are your people. If they disappear or go silent when you speak the hard things they aren’t your people, because they can’t handle the truth (yes, insert Jack Nicholson’s voice here). Your testimony about your experience is just as important and valid as theirs and the next person’s, even if you’ve walked on the darkest side of the moon and they on the brightest side of the sun. If your orbit has been more traumatic, it’s no ones right to say you should be silent as a result. They might consider themselves lucky their trip was easier and sit in awe of what you’ve survived, gleaning wisdom, grateful they didn’t have to learn it the hard way. You’ve saved them a learning curve, if they will hop onto yours, so never be ashamed to say your present isn’t a present yet. You’ve proven yourself brave for facing the truth and patiently awaiting your future gift, so stand tall, honest storytellers.
With Hope and Heart in Hand,
Presented by Writer’s Block Prose, LLC