When I was in college I had a papasan chair ‘Ìâ‰âÂÌâ‰Ûù one of those big round things that looked like a satellite dish. I was convinced that this awesome chair ‘Ìâ‰âÂÌâ‰Ûù with it's inviting corduroy cover and satin throw pillows ‘Ìâ‰âÂÌâ‰Ûù turned my drab, 8 x 12 foot cinder-blocked room into a hip, coffee-shop style hang out. Never mind the standard-wood grain book shelf, bunk bed, and desk. This chair made my room a scene.
The chair had a problem though. While I could sit in it, drink coffee, talk on the phone, and do homework unaffected, I was the only one. For everyone else, it was the 'crying chair.' Girls that had been frolicking through the hallway singing N'Sync (which was our One Direction) would see that my door was open and, upon entering and sitting down, would burst into tears. I would sit on my standard-issue desk chair and nod, sympathetically, while they poured out their hearts.
'I'm failing my Biology class.' 'He doesn't like me like that.' 'My roommate talked about me behind my back.' 'Then I took a razor and . . .' 'I feel so fat all I eat are cucumbers from the salad bar.' 'This weekend I drank a lot.' 'HOW could I not be picked for the basketball team?' Tears streaming, they would share their heartbreaks and I would try to listen sympathetically while handing them tissues and chocolate.
I'll Save You!
In addition to listening, I would try to offer solutions ‘Ìâ‰âÂÌâ‰Ûù sharing advice on how I had dealt with a difficult professor and loaning books and CD's that I had found inspirational on a bad day. Some of the advice I gave seemed to really help and it felt good to know that my friends would miss me if I wasn't there to offer them a listening ear and a chair to cry in. I started to believe that now that I was older, friendship must be all about being supportive when there was 'drama.'
However, there were problems that my advice or a CD couldn't solve. I didn't know how to help someone see that they needed to eat more food or not cut themselves. I didn't even know that there was something called 'AlaTeen' to help students deal with alcoholism (because these were the days before Google). I felt that if I could just listen better, give better advice, find better self-help books, and pray harder I could be superwoman and save my friends from all this pain.
I started to feel really overwhelmed by the friendships being formed by the 'crying chair.'
Nevermind, I Can’t
I was sharing all these worries with a mentor. She listened and then grabbed my hands, leveled my stare, and said somberly, 'Alison. You cannot save anyone.'
I cannot save anyone. You cannot save anyone. Fortunately, we know Someone who can and there are people who can help you when you feel overwhelmed.
And you need to hear this, because at some point in your life you're going to think you can. But you can't. You can listen, give advice, hand out tissues, and offer a supportive hug in tough times, but you cannot save them. It doesn't matter if it's a classmate you barely know or your best friend since kindergarten. When you reach a point that you feel that you are the only person who can help someone, or only one person can help you, it's time to take a step back and evaluate the relationship and get perspective from a parent, pastor, counselor, youth minister, teacher, coach, or adult mentor.
'’My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.' I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me' (2 Corintians 12:9). The needs we can encounter among our classmates, youth group, marching band, team, or close circle of friends can be overwhelming. They can leave us feeling that we've failed when we can't make their lives better. But the words of St. Paul remind us that we are not called to be supermen or superwomen ‘Ìâ‰âÂÌâ‰Ûù only super weak.
This doesn't mean that we don't help, listen, and support. But it does mean that we know our limits and when to ask for help.
Ask Yourself . . .
Do you think you're superman or superwoman? Ask yourself these questions about your friendships. If you say 'yes,' don't be afraid to be 'super-weak' and seek advice from your parent, youth minister, or pastor. You can't save anyone.
- Do you worry that your friend might harm themselves when you're not around? Do you find yourself panicking when you can't reach them?
- Do you find yourself resenting the time you spend with your friend? Do you re-arrange your schedule so that you can 'keep an eye on them'?
- Do you lie or avoid being honest with others (including your parents) about your relationship? Or, do you find yourself constantly venting to your friends and family about the relationship?
- Do you feel that no one understands your friend quite as well as you do’Ìâ‰âÂÌâ‰Ûùnot their parents, pastor, youth minister, other friends or even counselor?
- Do you find yourself monitoring their behavior – holding onto razors, scissors or other sharp objects? Do you watch them eat and count the calories they consume? Do you follow them to the bathroom after they eat to listen to see if they're throwing up? Do you feel a sense of accomplishment when they don't harm themselves?