Quotes. Bumper stickers. Those simple but profound one-liners can pack a powerful punch. But some like, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade” can at times be annoying – similar to the feeling I get when my brother texts me the sunny Florida weather report in the midst of a winter ice storm.
The same loving, albeit sometimes irritating sibling and his wife recently sent me a lemon tree as a thank-you, assuring me it will grow indoors. The note inside contained a familiar theme, “Here is a bit of sunshine to brighten your cold Indy winter!” As I unpacked the well-wrapped “live plant” box and discovered its contents, I starting thinking about all the things I could make with fresh lemons. I also reflected on how, the older I get, life seems to be producing more than lemons these days – trees filled with lemons would be more accurate. And the solution to the lemon trees, I can assure you, is not easily solved by “making lemonade.”
Although I see myself as a glass half-full person who is always digging for the best in every situation, the reality is that some situations cannot be tied up with a nice, neat happy ribbon. Many circumstances are out of our control and life-changing – a terminal cancer diagnosis, tragic car accident, or sudden death of a loved one. Making lemonade is not enough. It’s an inadequate response. Sometimes allowing yourself time to grieve is better than an empty “pick yourself up by the bootstraps and keep going” statement – especially on days when it’s not even possible to get out of bed.
In his book Living with Loss, author Dan Moseley talks about the importance of taking time to stop to feel the pain of a loss despite our instinct to avoid it and quickly move on, writing “We want to fill the empty cut within with something – alcohol, drugs, sex, sleep, work …” At these times of struggle, it’s helpful to be around others who will be patient and not problem solving, who do not need to “hurry us through it so they might feel better … people who can be present to the pain and help us see what it is that we might learn from it.”
I remember the first time I read this book and how I conveniently skipped this “Feeling Pain” chapter. When I finally picked it up again, I was on call as a chaplain at the local hospital. As the words slowly soaked in, the tears began to flow when I realized that I had never stopped to feel the pain of my broken marriage, loss of “Happily Ever After,” loneliness and challenges as a single parent, or the many other losses I had deeply buried and tried to brush over through the years. It was like I was finally giving myself permission to let the floodgates open – and they did. Needless to say, I’m glad it was a quiet shift at the hospital that night.
Trials and loss are a part of life because, according to Moseley, “We love created things. And because we love what is not permanent, we are guaranteed to lose.… Because change is the fundamental nature of life, we will lose what we love. That is assured.”
So, the next time life gives you something more like a lemon tree than just lemons, surround yourself by companions to share the burden and give yourself time to feel and work through the pain – maybe even as long as it takes to grow lemons in a laundry room in Indiana.