INTRO: Hello and welcome to The Storyteller's Mission with Zena Dell Lowe, a podcast for artists and storytellers about changing the world for the better through story.
TOPIC INTRODUCTION: Now, here we are in 2023. And what I haven't done yet is completely just go headfirst into talking about craft. And there's a reason for that, because I happen to be a person who believes that the healthier we are as artists, as individuals, the better our stories will be. And the reason for this is because of an understanding of human psychology, right? The more we can understand our own psychology—what makes us tick—and the more healthy we are in handling our own interpersonal relationships, and that sort of thing, the better we will be at reflecting that in our story, because characters are the basis of story. So we need to really wrestle with these things, both in terms of our personal health, and in terms of our characters.
Now, to that end, I want to talk to you today about something I've mentioned in previous podcasts that I want to expand on, because I think it's really important. So in the podcast on the new absolutes, the seven essential things that I think we ought to be looking for, in order to test if you will, if a story is good, one of the things I talked about was that we need to allow complex things to remain complex, we need to allow for the mystery. So that's what I want to expand on today, because there's something happening that I think we can avoid. So that's what I want to expand on today.
PRESENTATION: In kind of a strange way, what I want to talk to you about today, is how we need to stop trying to fix it. So I don't know what it is about human beings, but we seem not to be able to sit with suffering very well. Now, maybe this is an American phenomenon. Or maybe this is just a modern phenomenon. It used to be in other cultures when somebody would die, people would hire mourners, people to follow the funeral procession and tear their clothes. And wail and grieve. That was a good thing to do. Because there was an understanding that we needed to do that. That we needed to let it out. That we shouldn't be stoic.
But today, we're stoic. Today, that would be very frowned upon behavior. In fact, today, we would think that that person was really an attention seeker. And probably they would be if they were doing that today, because it's just not an acceptable practice. But in addition to that, I think there's this idea that because we live in America, perhaps, or because it's the modern times that we have this right to happiness. Which we've misdefined, but I won't digress. And because of that right to happiness, we think on some level that that's what we should be feeling all the time. That we really shouldn't have pain. And we want to avoid the pain. And we of course, want to do things or say things that will take that pain away. So we very much become a culture that's interested in avoiding pain, which of course, is not healthy.
Now, relatively recently, I had a friend of mine, who was in town, and he asked me to meet him for lunch. And so I did and about six months prior to us getting together, he had lost his fiancee, suddenly, she had had a complication due to some medication and a medical procedure. And she died. So a very, very tragic and unexpected death. And he was devastated. Now, I had not been in touch with him for some time. So we had not talked about it. But when he was coming to town, and he reached out and he said you want to have lunch? Of course I said yes. And as soon as we sat down, I said to him, "Dave, I heard that your fiancée passed. I am so sorry. Would you mind telling me what happened? Would you want to talk about it?" Exactly, Lulu. And he did.
And so he told me the story of what had happened and how devastating it was and all these things. And I just kept asking him questions. I just kept asking him, "Well, how are you doing now?" And "What is it like? I mean, where are you at?" And, "Man, that sounds really difficult." That sort of thing. And he was telling me how hard it really was. He even told me at one point how he had gone to a soccer game to watch one of his kids and usually she would be with them. And as he was standing there, he was so raw. He didn't know if he could get through it. He was just— tears were just right there. They were just right there. And he didn't know how he was gonna get through this game. And there was one guy who was across the field, a guy he'd never even really talked to. But he was a father of one of the kids on the same team. And that guy apparently had had some sort of experience with this sort of thing. He saw Dave, and he just made a beeline for him. And he stood right next to him, put his hand on his shoulder and just said, "Hey, I'm going to be here, the whole game. You just do what you got to do to get through this." As if that guy knew that Dave was going to have difficulty getting through the game.
And Dave said he just lowered his head and he sobbed. He sobbed because somebody saw him. And they let him grieve. And he said, you know, he didn't even really know that guy. But that guy really ministered to him in that moment, because he'd been feeling so alone. Because people didn't get it.
In fact, what people had been doing was right away as soon as he would talk to them about it, or they would find out or whatever, they somehow bring up dating. "Well, are you ready to get back out there? I have somebody I'd love to introduce you to." And Dave said that was so alienating to him because he was nowhere near ready. It was the last thing on his mind. And it also signaled to him that it was time for him to stop talking about it. Because they were uncomfortable with his pain. That's really what it came down to. They were uncomfortable with his pain.
And at this point in the conversation, Dave thanked me. And he said, "I just want to say, I really appreciate it, that you didn't try to fix it. You didn't try to fix it. That's what everybody does. They try to fix it. They try to make the pain go away. And you didn't. You let me be in my pain. You just sat here with me. You let me be in it. And I really appreciate it." And he said, "Honestly, I feel like I have glass in my veins. That's what it's like all the time. It's so raw, I am so raw. It's like having glass in my veins. And what makes it worse is when people will not allow me to have that glass in my veins."
Not that he wanted to go around boohoohoo all the time. It wasn't that. It's just that he couldn't help it. At times, it would happen. The grief would come out. So, a lot of these people who would approach him, they would see that pain. And what they wanted is, they wanted to help. They meant well. They really did. They meant well. But really, they wanted him to feel better, because they were so uncomfortable with his pain.
Now, the same thing happened with my friend Mike No. And his wife died of cancer. And it was devastating. Devastating. They were young. They were very much in love. They were the love of each other's lives. They did it all right. You know, they did it perfectly. They were a very wonderful, beautiful Christian couple, and she died prematurely before her time.
Well, Mike being a young man in his 30s, of course, people were anxious to set him up and to get him a new wife. And it was stunning to him because he didn't want to date. He didn't want to date. In fact, he still doesn't want to date and it's been a number of years now. But Ruth is still the love of his life. The reason everybody wants him to date, though—or the reason everybody back then even wanted him to date within several months of her death—is because they just wanted him to feel better as if that was going to work.
By the way, this happens all the time. When you see people getting a divorce. What do they do?They start dating right away. They're getting a divorce, they start dating. Now I'm not trying to be judgmental, but it's a mistake. It's a mistake. You're getting a divorce for a reason. You have issues. You are wounded. You may not even realize it. But divorce is a severing that hurts. It's a trauma. You can't just get up and start dating. Now why are you doing that? You're rushing the process because you don't want to feel the pain, as if that other person is going to fix you. But the problem is they're not. You're going to go into that with new wounds with unresolved wounds because you didn't let those ones heal. You didn't take the time you needed to learn from the mistakes of your past.
There are things for us to learn in our suffering. But we don't want to feel the loneliness. We don't want to feel the pain. We want to rush the process. And so we make bad choices. And then guess what? Oftentimes, we're doomed to repeat the process, because we didn't take the time we needed in the first place. So take the time to heal whatever the wound is, if you've lost somebody important to you, or if you've divorced somebody or they've divorced you, or whatever the case may be, take the time to heal. Let God work on you. Because there are things for you to learn.
I remember one time being at a dinner party, and somehow the subject of euthanasia came up. And of course, everybody there, I soon discover, is for it. Why? Because the person is suffering. So why shouldn't we be allowed to put ourselves out of the suffering? Nobody wants to see another person suffer. Nobody wants to suffer themselves. So of course, euthanasia should be an option. And I remember saying, "Yeah, but what if we're looking at suffering wrong? What if the suffering that we're experiencing is actually God's last chance to reach us?"
Because suffering, by the way, is the very thing that has to happen before we change. Have you ever noticed that? Nobody changes—nobody starts doing anything different until there's pain. We don't go to the hospital until we're in pain. And that might be a physical problem, right? We don't go and do something about something until we feel pain. So pain is the very thing that leads to change. Sometimes there's physical pain, but sometimes there's emotional pain. And when we're in emotional pain, it is an opportunity to change. It is an invitation to change.
So euthanasia, where we're putting somebody out of their misery. Now, you might say, "Yeah, but that's a different kind of suffering." Well, is it? Because it's that kind of suffering that often gets us to ask the right kind of questions that allows God to penetrate our hard hearts.
I remember when my mother was dying. And here she was days before she had actually passed. And she was in a bed in the middle of the living room at the family lodge. And even my dad—and they had divorced years prior to this—was there. He was there because there was still love between them. And so here she is, she's dying. And one night she wakes up, and she starts calling out for my dad, "Rob, Rob." And of course, we all come running, including my father. And he makes his way to the front and he takes her hand and he says, "I'm here. Zena," my mom's name is also Zena. "I'm here, Zena." And my mom looks up at him and says, "Rob, I'm scared." And he said, "I know Zena." She said, "No, no, I'm scared. Because you don't know Jesus. And I'm afraid that I'm never going to see you again." My dad is an atheist, see. He doesn't believe in God. And here, my mom is facing death. And her thought is, "Rob, I want to see you again."
My dad has the misfortune of having three children who are devout Christians, who regularly preach the gospel to him. So he's heard it. It's been presented to him. Now, if ever there was anything that was going to get through to my dad and penetrate his heart, it was going to be my dying mother. What if him watching her suffer, and her die was the best chance God had of getting to him?
And so I argued in that dinner party, that it's not our right to end somebody's suffering prematurely, because we're robbing God of his most important weapon. We're robbing him of a chance to use the suffering in whatever capacity he sees fit to actually cause us to change. And of course, what the people at the party heard is that God is cruel and what kind of a God has to use suffering to do that? But my point is, "No, wait! We're going to suffer anyway. That is the great promise of this life. How great is my God that He can use it for something good?" But that seemed to have been missed on the participants there.
But I believe it. I believe it. It doesn't make Him cruel. It makes Him amazing. Because He's able to take our pain and do something beautiful with it. He's able to take our brokenness and transform it into something new. When we participate because of the pain we're experiencing. And we finally realize whatever it is we're doing ain't workin'. We have to try something new.
So people suffer. People suffer. And there is a reason for that suffering. And we need to let them suffer a lot of times, but we want to fix it. We want to take away their pain. We want to change them ourselves. We want to be God on their behalf. And by the way, ladies, you know what I'm talking about on two parts. Because on the one hand, whenever you have a man and you're trying to talk and just share the things that are going on, what is one of our complaints? Don't try to fix it. Just listen. Just listen. Just be there. Just hear me, right? But by the same token, what do we often do? What do ladies often do? We often try to fix our mate. We often see somebody who's broken or damaged, or see somebody who doesn't have the right emotional capacity, and we try to fix them. We try to save them. We try to love them back to health. And that doesn't work either.
We need to stop trying to fix it. This is also why so many people, if you've ever been through a time of suffering, you find how few people have a capacity to actually be there for you. It's because they don't know how to be there for you. And you end up feeling very alone and abandoned at times like my friend Dave. But it's the people that can allow you to suffer, the people that can just be there in that place of pain and not try to fix it, those are the ones that we tend to gravitate to. Those are the ones we need.
There's this wonderful scene in Lars and the Real Girl, where Lars, who is having an illusion, where his girlfriend Bianca is sick. She seems to be dying. And the ladies from the church come and they tell him "Come on. Come on down. Lars, come on down. Let's let Bianca rest and you come on down and just sit with us." And so here's these three church ladies. And they're weaving away and doing their sewing. And in this scene, he's just sitting there and he's looking around and he says, "Well, should I be doing something?" And one of the lady says, "No Lars, this is just what we do. We just come here and we sit. We just sit together. It's just something we do when somebody is hurting." It's a wonderful, wonderful scene.
Unfortunately, it's not true enough, but it should be. It should be true. But so few of us are capable of doing that. So few of us are capable of letting somebody else be in pain in our presence. So what happens is that person has to go off on their own and experience their pain in isolation. They don't bring it up. They put on a mask. They pretend that they're okay.
I had a friend named Jason who committed suicide back when we were in college. Years later, I remember running into his mom at church. And while we were there, I remember saying to her, "Oh, you know what I just remembered about Jason recently? I was thinking about the way he drives, do you know that Jason couldn't drive for crap?" I'm saying this to his mom, right? And I'm saying he was the worst driver. "I remember, we were going somewhere. And he had that big ol' boat for a car and he would step on the gas and then get off of it. And it was like we were rocking back and forth." And she started laughing. And then she said, "Thank you. Thank you for talking to me about Jason. Nobody wants to bring it up. They're afraid to bring it up. Because they don't want to remind me, but what they don't realize is he's always on my mind anyway. I don't have to be reminded. He's always there. And it just feels so good to be able to talk about him."
And that really stuck with me. And I'll tell you something. I don't know why I brought that story up to her except that it was true. I had just thought about it a few days earlier. And when I saw her, I just blurted it out. Had I given it more thought, I probably wouldn't have, to be honest with you. But because it had just happened, I blurted it out. That's kind of what I do. And she thanked me for it. And I put that in my little noggin and I thought, "Wow, there's something there." And so now, whenever I know somebody who's had a loss, I make it a point to either talk about the person or ask about the person. Or if I have a story, to tell a story about that person. And people love it. It's a wonderful thing, because it gives them a chance to be in pain, but without the isolation. And there's something powerful about that. It is healing. It is healing. So in a weird way, simply allowing them to be in pain in your presence is a gift of healing to them.
CONCLUSION: All right. So I've only been talking about our personal lives, and how this might come up in your personal life, how there is suffering in this world that may come up in a number of different capacities, but there's always a reason for it. And so we have to look for that reason if there's something to learn from it. Or we just have to allow ourselves to feel the pain of it, and to grieve and hopefully allow others to grieve in our presence.
But next week, when we come back, I'm going to talk to you about how this actually applies to story. And what we can do to utilize this in our stories to maximize the full potential and the arc of our character and their journeys.
CALL TO ACTION: So I hope this has been an interesting and hopefully challenging episode for you. If you're enjoying The Storyteller's Mission, would you please rate and review the show and of course, share the show with somebody else that you think might enjoy it?
OUTRO: In the meantime, I want to thank you so much for joining me on The Storyteller's Mission with Zena Dell Lowe. May you go forth inspired to change the world for the better through story.