A Formulaic Life

A few friends of mine are struggling. One can’t find the job she wants, and no matter how much she prays about it, God seems silent. Another struggles with anxiety, and no one seems to understand.

Both their frustrations increase when well-meaning friends and family offer nothing but platitudes, or accuse them of not having enough faith or optimism.

Part of the problem, I think, stems from wanting simple, formulaic answers. All those, “if only” statements such as “if only you prayed more,” or “if only you had more faith,” or “if only you exercised more,” or “if only you ate the right kind of food.”

I used to poo-poo depression. I’ve been depressed, but I never lost my sense of optimism, even when I considered taking my own life. Even then, deep down I knew things would eventually get better.

Until I read a book by Roxanne Henke (a ND author) called “Becoming Olivia.” It’s a fictionalized story of her own battle with depression.

The character, Olivia, endured the same quick and easy “answers” by friends and family, but without any solution. She even believed a solution could be found without much effort, because she had faith one was possible. Finally she had to admit she needed professional help. Even then there were no quick and easy answers, or a simple formula to follow in order to beat her depression. It was a process that took a long time to solve, and even with medication, she still has to watch how she feels lest she drop back into dark thoughts and emotions.

In today’s “gotta have it now” society, we want quick and easy solutions to all our problems, but it simply (no pun intended) isn’t possible. Life is complicated, and can’t be lived by using some five-step formula. It’s one reason I despise memes, and so-called self-help manuals. Memes never give the complete story, and self-help books promise to make a person’s life better “if only” they adhere to all the steps offered.

Every person has his/her own unique problems, and few can be solved with a few words or deeds. It’s a process that could take a literal lifetime.

On the flipside, I wish I could offer an easy solution to someone’s problems, because I don’t like seeing people in pain. Everyone who offers platitudinal advice is honestly and sincerely trying to help. They – and I – just don’t know how.

In the end, all we can offer is understanding, compassion and, above all, to simply listen. At least for me, when I’m having a problem, I’m not always looking for someone to give me a solution so much as a sympathetic ear. Sometimes knowing I’m not alone in my struggles helps me get through it all, even if those traveling with me can’t provide direct solutions.

1 thought on “A Formulaic Life

  1. This essay shows your great maturity and wisdom, Andra, and is likely the best instruction for helping someone overcome a deep problem: be an ear. It seems that is what most psychologists, clergy, etc. offer before dispensing any professional advice. But an objective and responsible ear is to be welcomed by most anyone who has a problem, am I right?


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