It’s happened to me countless times.
I find myself in a situation or circumstances that feel overwhelming. I’m struggling. I’m emotional. I’m not OK. Maybe it’s a health crisis. Maybe it’s a parenting dilemma. Maybe it’s marital challenges.
And then, someone comes along offering this gem of advice: “Well, you know…just remember that somebody’s always got it worse than you.”
Ok. Um, yes, that is true. There is almost always and forever will be, someone who is likely facing a more daunting situation than I. And sometimes, having that perspective can help you to refocus on your situation, find a silver lining, and continue moving forward.
But frankly, I don’t think it’s good advice. Dare I say, it’s the worst advice one could give because while they may be sharing truth with you, what they’re also doing is invalidating your unique experience. What it translates to me is:
“Hey, get a grip. Your situation is not that bad.”
“Stop thinking about yourself and just be grateful it’s not worse.”
“Buck up and put your big girl panties (or big boy britches) on.”
Ironically, I often find myself giving this well meaning but poorly delivered advice to…well…myself. I start to feel guilty or ashamed for feeling the way I do. Damaging self-talk ensues. “You shouldn’t be crying about this, Sarah. That’s silly. Pull it together.” And because I start to believe it’s true for me, it then quite subtly starts to bleed into my conversations with my husband, my children, and my friends.
It’s advice that masks itself as being helpful, when really, it’s a judgment call that suggests we short-circuit our emotional response and the healing we need to receive.
It’s like telling a child not to cry when they lose a toy or scrape their knee. Our job is not to compare their situation to someone else’s, but to validate their pain and emotions, while offering comfort, encouragement, and compassion. Their emotional response is just that—it’s theirs. No one else’s.
One of my best friends who earned her Masters of Fine Arts in Acting, used to tell me about an exercise they would do in one of her classes. Whenever the student shared something, the teacher would lean forward with hands extended outward in a “v” shape, and with a very serious and intentional voice respond with, “That’s valid. That’s valid.”
We would often laugh at the ridiculousness of that response at times because it seemed so over-the-top. Yet the teacher’s response never changed—whether you shared something deeply personal and vulnerable or whether you said your favorite color was red. It was always simply, “That’s valid.”
Friends, that’s what we need. Whatever our struggle or situation, we need to know that we’re affirmed in our feelings.
It’s exactly what Jesus did for sisters, Mary and Martha, when their brother Lazarus died. When Jesus arrived on the scene four days later, He didn’t fault them for their grief. He didn’t diminish the loss or make them feel bad for expressing their emotions. And He certainly didn’t say, “Hey look, gals…my death is going to be way worse. At least he went peacefully.”
No, Jesus wept. He encouraged. He offered them hope—not a comparison trap.
That’s my prayer for you today, friend. That you would know that wherever you find yourself in this moment…you are not alone. Your feelings and emotions are valid. Your struggle is valid. You are seen. And you are loved.
But wait, there’s more. If I could add one final piece of advice to the pile here, it would be this: It’s not a race.
I don’t believe God sits there with a celestial timer hanging over our heads, yelling at us to, “Hurry up! You’ve only got a few minutes left to figure this out!”
He’s patient with us. He’s compassionate. He’s understanding.
Whether it takes you five minutes, five days or five years, it’s your journey. We’re all going to finish this marathon of a life one day, so set a pace for yourself that allows you to fully process your emotions and heal.
And as you do that, just know that there are plenty of folks cheering you on and encouraging you to keep going. You’ve got this, friend.