It’s not a secret that this has been a hard year for our family. Losing my father-in-law and one of my closest friends to cancer within a week of each other, our youngest daughter going deaf, some of our kids struggling with big challenges related to their past or their special needs, having so many teenagers in one house (hormone central over here!), some job changes, unexpected bills including a seventeen thousand dollar dental one, and more have made this a rough year. What I haven’t talked much about is how all of that has affected me personally.
Lately, I’ve not been in a very positive place. I’ve found myself thinking negatively and feeling discouraged. I have also felt burdened by the overwhelm. There are days when it is just all too much.
I hit a low point this weekend and had to decide to do something to make a change before the overwhelm and sadness swallowed me whole. I thought back to other times in my life when I have felt this way, other hard times when I couldn’t see light at the end of the road and tried to remember how I had gotten out of the funk.
The thing is, I know that there is no changing my situation. There are things over which I have no control. I cannot will my daughter to hear again. I cannot heal my son’s early childhood wounds with hope. I cannot bring people I have lost back to life. I cannot wish my hardships away. But looking back, I realized that there was one thing that had always worked in the past to make me feel better.
Have you ever been in a situation that felt hopeless? Have you ever felt so overwhelmed that you didn’t know how you could possibly overcome?
Maybe right now, life is just hard. Sometimes, it just is.
The best thing to do when life is hard is counterintuitive. It’s not something that you would naturally think of when you are already overwhelmed and you feel like one more thing on the to-do list will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
The best thing to do when life is hard is to do something kind for someone else. I know it may sound like I’m adding another layer of guilt or adding another thing to do when you already have too many.
Think of someone who is struggling. Perhaps there is someone in your community who is battling cancer or is recently widowed or is parenting kids with special needs or is caring for an aging parent. Next, choose one small thing that you can do as an act of kindness to them.
What can I do?
Bring them a meal. I know that if you’re already having a hard time making a meal for your own family, this is daunting, but somehow, if you double the meal you make so that you can give half of it away, the making of it for your own family becomes less of a burden. Perhaps you’ll even feel energized enough to make some freezer meals so that you can have some in your freezer and give some away to help other families.
Send them an encouraging message. It may be a funny gif or joke you text them to brighten their day. It may be a scripture verse you find to uplift them. In the searching for just the right one, you’ll find encouragement too.
- Send flowers.
- Smile and wave at a grouchy neighbour.
- Mail a thank you note to someone who’s made a difference in your life or influenced you.
- Babysit for an evening for a couple whose marriage has hit a rough patch.
- Give someone a compliment.
- Send encouraging words through Cards for Hospitalized Kids.
- Deliver a coffee to a mom with young kids who didn’t get much sleep last night.
- Visit a senior’s center.
- Offer grace.
- If someone is battling an illness, offer to pick up their groceries or run errands for them.
- Send a memory to someone who has lost a loved one. Text, call or email to share the memory with them and let them know their loved one is not forgotten.
- Donate some clothing or household items to a shelter or second hand store.
- Share your appreciation for good service with a manager.
- Drop off a large pack of toilet paper at the home of a large family. It will be appreciated!
- Pay for the coffee of the person behind you in line.
- Donate to the food bank.
- Give parking money or gas gift cards to someone who has a loved one in the hospital. (you can read more ways to support a family whose child is in the hospital here)
Helping others helps you more than any other single thing you can do. It helps you to take the focus off the negatives in your life. It enables you to see the hurt that others are feeling but gives you a way to bring a small ray of hope to that hurting.
I learned a lot about helping others when your own life is hard from my friend Cathy. During her battle with cancer, she always did what she could to reach out and bless others. She befriended those who were lonely. She baked for teachers and friends. She always made time to listen. She gave thoughtful gifts for no reason other than to encourage. She volunteered. She helped care for other people’s children. She led a children’s choir. She did all of this and so much more in the years, months, weeks, and even days leading up to her death.
Cathy made sure others knew that they were valued, that they were prayed for, that they were worth her time. She took the focus off of her own pain by reaching out and giving to others. She shared with me how much it helped her to help others during the hardest times of her life.
When I realized this weekend that this technique had always worked for me in the past too, it still felt daunting. So I started small. I called someone I knew who was lonely. The call didn’t take long and they seemed to really appreciate it. It was such a simple act of kindness and yet, already, I felt a bit better about my own circumstances.
The next day, I gave one of our sons an extra long tuck-in. This may not sound like an act of kindness. It may just sound like parenting or doing my job. But you know the saying “The kids who need loving the most will ask for it in the most unloving of ways”? That saying describes the weekend well and by Sunday night, I was exhausted and even though I knew in my brain that he needed extra attention and love, I was feeling pretty done for the day. I couldn’t wait to get him tucked in and have some time to myself. I chose (and it was a painful, deep internal conflict kind of choice) to do what I knew he needed. I spent more than an hour with him and his walls started to crumble and he began to let me in. He softened and in the end, I was so thankful I had made that choice, but it was an act of service. It was not an easy thing to do.
Today, I made lavender playdough for a friend whose daughter has been having sensory meltdowns. I doubled the recipe so that I could give half to my youngest daughter since it’s her favourite. Instead of feeling like making the playdough for my daughter was another thing on my never-ending list, I felt good about doing it because it was a small blessing for a friend, a way to remind her that I was thinking of her.
How can I say confidently after only 3 days that I have found the secret to feeling better in a time when life is hard? I know what has worked for me in the past. I know what has worked for others I know. I can already sense the fog lifting and I’m feeling more positive about the future. Tomorrow, I will do one more small thing. And then another and another until I have climbed my way out of this and can see beyond my circumstances to the needs of others and the beauty and blessings that surround me.
I’m not advocating that you put yourself at the bottom of the list and neglect yourself. I am a big proponent of the importance of self-care, but doing small kind things for others can be a way of taking care of yourself. It forces you to see that others have struggles too which makes you feel less alone. Giving of yourself helps you to feel good too.
So if life is hard right now, I encourage you to see if the secret to starting on the road to feeling better works for you too.
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