Sometimes life deals us a really bad hand of cards. Sometimes we deal them to ourselves. A few anecdotes:
My cousin got pregnant out of wedlock at eighteen. I was young at the time, but not too young to understand that she wasn’t in the best situation (not just the wedlock thing). I still don’t think I know the full extent of it, but there was some tension in my family over the whole thing- the kind that no one really talks about except in private whispers between family members. And I know enough to see the amazing change that took over her once she became the mother to two daughters. She made some bad choices in her late teenage/early adult years, but she turned her life around for the sake of those two little girls. I am so proud of her when I look at her today because of that change- when I look at where she’s been, how far she’s come, and where she is today.
My uncle has suffered from various health conditions over the past decade that keep him relatively home-bound and very incapable of taking care of himself or anyone else. Thank God for my aunt who is a saint, taking care of both him and their two boys. But these health conditions unfortunately extend beyond just the physical to include the mental and even emotional. We recently discovered some long-buried skeletons in his closet that even further complicate things. It’s been several years since he lost his job, and he mostly spends his time passed out or rubbing his personal views in other people’s faces by way of Facebook. But over these past few years he’s more than strained his relationship with his extended family, especially his older nieces and nephews, and it recently got worse when he berated my pastor aunt and cousin using his faith as justification when my cousin came out as gay (which is a vast oversimplification, but it is so complicated it would give you a headache). Talk about family strain.
These two stories have a lot in common, but there is one major difference between them: my cousin had motivation. She had something to live for. Something to make her keep going. The whole reason she turned her life around is because she wanted to make a better life for her girls. And so she did. But my uncle, he has nothing to live for. No motivation. He’s completely given up. His two young boys aren’t even enough to make him work to pull himself out of the hole that he’s dug partially but that is also the product of some circumstances life has handed him.
For me, the hardest thing has always been to watch someone be in the pits of life and not do anything to get themselves out of it. It’s so incredibly frustrating to watch someone not help themselves when you know they’re the only person with that capability. Because I’ve been there and I’ve also seen that movie enough times to know that it always turns out one of two ways: you get yourself out or you don’t. But either way, the key factor here is you. No one can do it for you- no one can make you get out or pull you out or any of that. They can be there to support you and cheer you on, but in the end, you have to do the heavy lifting. You have to hit rock bottom and realize, “wow, this is it. I either stay here and waste away, or I have to go up.”
“Jesus walked this lonesome valley. He had to walk it by Himself; O, nobody else could walk it for Him, He had to walk it by Himself.” -American Spiritual
And when you’ve been in that position, and you’ve pulled yourself out of that hole, it’s horrible to watch someone choose not to get themselves out. You really want to stand there framed in neon lights, screaming, “Look at me! I did it! If I can do it, so can you!” And you don’t want to do it as some sort of “Look at me; I’m so much better than you.” No, you want to do it because you want them to see that if you can do it, so can they; you know they can do it. Because it’s all you. No one can save you. You have to be your own knight in shining armor.
I’m not a big Miley Cyrus fan, but there’s one song that she certainly got right. It’s “The Climb.” Because the lyrics are so, so true. “There’s always going to be an uphill battle; sometimes you’re going to have to lose,” but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try. It’s a battle for a reason. You’ve got to fight it until the end.
If only fewer people would give up the fight, maybe we’d have more triumphs.