S.Y.L.O.M.

By

“Ever’ man wants life to be a fine thing, and a easy. ‘Tis fine, boy, powerful fine, but ’tain’t easy. Life knocks a man down and he gits up and it knocks him down agin. I’ve been uneasy all my life…” —Penny Baxter (from The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings)

It’s a somber moment in The Yearling when Jody hears these words from his father, but the situation is bound up at the edges with love, knowing what we do about their relationship at this point in the book—how Penny anticipated the sadness his son would face and tried to head it off at the pass. Jody’s stubbornness kept him from receiving some of that care from his father, but it didn’t stop Penny from still being there for him in the end.

So, what do you do when you find yourself in Jody’s shoes, and all the sad things feel true? Do you have someone in your life who loves you like Penny Baxter? Someone you can reach out to, who will help you see more than what you’re feeling, who can point past all the dark clouds to a patch of clear light? There have been times in my life when I felt like I didn’t have anyone like that but Jesus, and while he’s absolutely the most valid voice one can listen to, there are also times when you’re so far down in life’s holes that it takes an actual physical hand to pull you out.

It may seem contrary to all the old hymns which tell us Jesus is all we need, but the truth of the matter is Jesus made us to need other people, too. Otherwise, wouldn’t we all be living on solitary planets with just ourselves and him?

The other truth I’ve learned over the years is that I’ve always had, and still do have, people I can call when I need that extra physical hand to hold onto in the dark places of life. God has blessed me with a caring husband, a thoughtful sister, and multiple friends over the years who love me enough to be there for me whenever I need them. The problem is that I don’t always let them know. When I’m in those closed off places, the thing that often suffocates me most is the shame I feel for having stumbled into them in the first place.

I’m a Christian, after all. That means I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, doesn’t it? I’m not allowed to feel forsaken and alone. I’m supposed to help other people find the light, and if my flashlight isn’t working anymore, then I must’ve done something wrong, right? Well, that’s what I call a spider web question, which of course needs a spider web answer, which I don’t really have time for in this post. So for now, let me say “maybe,” and then I’ll tell you what I usually do instead of sharing my hurt with other people.

I isolate myself. I turn up the sad songs and burrow into the corner and wait. Which doesn’t make things any better; and certainly isn’t helpful for those who love and need me. But alas, it’s what I do, and lately I’ve been wondering if there’s a way to break this bad habit so that it doesn’t lead to more shame and more isolation, and eventually (for me anyway) depression.

What if I stopped stuffing? What if I no longer kept all my feelings to myself? Introversion is my tendency, but melancholy doesn’t have to be my choice. What would it look like for me to start an honest conversation with a helpful friend? I can tell you that there have been times when I recognized I was headed down a dark road and decided to call or text or email someone, but then I stopped myself, or else I did call, but I didn’t know what in the world to say and by the end of the conversation I was feeling worse than when I first called. How do you transition from small talk to something heavy? Isn’t it awkward sometimes to try to move the conversation away from what we’re comfortable with and admit to our friends that we just need them to listen for a minute?

A couple of months ago I was standing behind the merch table at an Andrew Peterson concert in Knoxville when he sang the song “Shine Your Light on Me,” and it had been one of those weeks when I’d wanted to make that phone call to one of my friends, but I didn’t. And I thought to myself this is exactly what I needed to tell my friends. Surely they would understand if I just played this song for them. But then again, calling a friend and just playing a song for them . . . well, that seems like it could be a bit awkward as well.

I understand and believe the truth behind the song. God has put people in our lives to be his own image bearers, and they have light to share with us when our batteries go out. The problem is that I don’t know how to apply that truth. The few times when others have helped me out of a dark place are just that—few. And it seems as though they came to me through luck.

But in reality it was God acting, in ways that I don’t always see. He’s provided help for me all these years I’ve been growing up, the same way that Penny did for Jody as he grew up that year. Yes, Jody faced hardship and loss. But he learned, just as all of us should, that when you’re thrashing around in the darkness, it’s best to ask for help. Better than trying to find your own way out of your problems, is the simple plea for someone to turn on the light. And in the end (I tear up just thinking about it) when Jody comes crawling home, Penny quotes from Corinthians, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child…” demonstrating that he and Jodi now have a new language in common, one for those who’ve known and lived with sorrow. So now I’m wondering if perhaps it’s time for me grow up enough to begin to speak his language, one that’s built on humility.

The Yearling, AP’s music, and my struggle to be honest with other people about my heart. Is there some magical tap that will nail these three things to the same post? Well, it might seem a little awkward still, but here’s what I’ve come up with. Do you remember some of those trendy sayings we have in Christian culture, like “What would Jesus do?” and “Bless her little heart!” What if the title of Andrew’s song is a new one I can add to the mix, perhaps one that’s a little more sincere? I hereby propose “Shine Your Light on Me” as the newest addition to my holy lexicon—it even works if you make into an acronym: SYLOM, pronounced like that city in Arkansas where I used to go to church camp: Siloam Springs.

Maybe the next time I feel all alone on my own dark planet, I could text “SYLOM” to a friend and it would help to start a conversation that I very much need to have. And maybe the time after that it could be a shortcut my friend would immediately recognize, so that she prayed for me right away, then actually picked up her phone and called me to ask how I was doing. Wouldn’t that be humbling, but also adult-like at the same time?

On Andrew’s album, Light for the Lost Boy, the song immediately following “Shine your Light on Me” is “Carry the Fire” and I can’t help but think how well those two songs work together to paint a picture of what the body of Christ can look like here on earth. How beautiful a rendering of God’s design—where those who need help say so, and those who hear commit to caring in return. How bright that light might shine, even in our darkest places.


18 Comments

  1. Matthew Benefiel

    I know the ache well. I’ve realized that as Christians we almost believe we are immune to problems, and like you said, we pull in instead of asking for help. Then, when we have been pulled up, do we go and do the pulling in return?

    I’ve been telling myself that we who bear our troubles on the inside should shed them on the outside; giving the grace of God in humility to those we see falling. To the fallen the falling are easily seen, like Penny saw in Jody. I’ve found using my own failures to help others seek God, is uplifting to us both, and strangely humbling.

    Yet still, we fall often, and hide even more. Light for the Lost Boy has been a great album. So as Andy Gullahorn’s album recently. “I Will” leaves me aching to seek help, to find that person who will cry and die with me; I think the next question should be, who will I cry and die with.

    Thanks for the thoughts Janna, RR is ever the calm in a sea of turmoil. I hope you lean ever on the help God gives you. Like your post, don’t forget that writing can be a way to express yourself when words fail. Sometimes we have to write that letter of encrouagement, while asking for help, and send it with all hope and without fear of how it will be received.

  2. Laura Peterson

    Janna. This is SO GOOD. Thank you for sharing this. Some of this reminds me so much of something I wrote in college, about a time of “stuffing” in my own life. I have such a fear of being perceived as “needy,” it’s my default reaction to just burrow down and wait for somebody to notice, and then to apologize up and down for needing help in the first place. Thanks for calling that what it is – a bad habit. “Introversion is my tendency, but melancholy doesn’t have to be my choice.” Amen! I’m going to work on making SYLOM part of my regular vocabulary.

  3. Brenda Branson

    Jana, your thoughts and words mirror my own struggle. Thanks for speaking truth and life through this article.

  4. Brooke

    Speak up. Let people know how they can walk this road with you. In the end in so many ways it will bless you both. Deep, real friendship isn’t a burden to either party but a sweet opportunity to know Jesus better. Someone needs a friend who thinks deeply about Christ as you do and you need them. Just as you said because we weren’t created to live on little planets all by ourselves. Thank you for putting yourself out there. I needed this encouragement. I look forward to meeting such a kindred spirit on this planet or the next.

  5. Andrew Peterson

    @andrew

    Thanks, Janna. It’s good to know you’re not alone. And I love reading how deeply The Yearling resonated with you. It’s one of the few books I pull off the shelf every week or so just to read Penny’s monologue at the end. Thanks for this post.

  6. Jade Payne

    Janna. These are words that I needed today. I love you for sharing this and I’m thankful for humans like you and AP for formulating my mixed up thoughts in word and song. So thankful.

  7. Cheri Hogrefe

    I like it. And all I could think of when I sounded out SYLOM was the word asylum…which is a shelter or safe haven for someone. cool.

  8. Michael Hadley

    Thanks so much for this post. I too tend toward introversion and sometimes getting me to talk about a problem is like pulling teeth; the process becomes more complicated since I don’t necessarily like hurting people so sometimes I don’t always say everything. But you’re right we need to have people we can talk to.

    I have a question though, a little piece of advice needed.

    What do you do when there’s no one around to help pull you out? I just graduated college and I’m living at home and all my friends are elsewhere; I can contact them online but it doesn’t seem to be good enough. Physical interaction is so much more meaningful. Thanks again for this post!

  9. PW

    This reminds me, Janna, of a passage of scripture in 2 Cor. 1:9-11. In some circles, one is made to feel weak if they share their struggles, but after years of dealing with chronic illness the words of this passage bore themselves out in my life and blew me away.

    “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, you also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us through many.”

    Paul shared the burden with others and they were able to share in the blessing of deliverance as well. God be praised.

    “Shine Your Light on Me” is one of my favorite songs on Andrew’s album, as well.

  10. Janna

    Hey everyone. Thanks for the positive feedback. You guys rawk! And thanks to AP for such a great song.

    Michael, I got married before I finished college so I never did the living back at home thing. My sister did though and I know from her experience that it’s a tricky place to be. Do you still go to the church you grew up in? It might be time to find a new one and forge some grown-up friendships for yourself. Another thing you could try is using FB or even this website to see if there are any Rabbit Roomers who live close by that you might get to know.

    I moved a lot growing up so I’ve gotten used to meeting new people but I need to have things in common with them for the acquaintance to turn into friendship.

    Lastly, I would say that it’s never a bad thing to make an appointment with a pastor or some other professional counselor. It doesn’t have to mean that you “need therapy,” (although I’ve definitely needed it in the past and am a huge advocate for it), but sometimes just one meeting with someone who’s trained to listen can help you come up with a plan for those times when you’re feeling stuck.

    Hope these suggestions help! Thanks for being vulnerable here.

  11. Michael Hadley

    Thanks Janna!

    I think church is the real answer. I haven’t been in four months because I don’t really have a home church here. My parents do but it’s not really for a college age person. It’s hard when you still feel like a kid to make grown-up friendships haha. I agree with you about talking to a professional as well, I did it the last few years of college and it made it so much better.

    Thanks again for writing such a great piece. And…to all in the Rabbit Room, thank you for existing! You guys write like I want to.

  12. Dan R.

    Hey, Michael, I just felt like I needed to respond to you because I’ve been in your situation, and chosen to handle it in good and bad ways, within the last few years. And I agree with you that church, and engaging with the Christian family there, was the best thing I did during that time. Not just being part of a church, but forming relationships with others in a small group setting, and seeing what branches sprung from that, is, I think, one thing I’ll cherish about that time.

    And it’s not just that I found a bunch of people just like me. I actually ended up making pretty much all of my friendships with people at least a couple years older than I was. And looking back, some of the best relationships I had were not with people who I necessarily fell intuitively into friendship with, but often those who probably didn’t ‘get me’ at first. It was those people who, once I made myself available, were the ones to surprise me (part of me) with how loving the body of Christ can be to a person gravitated towards their own lonely planet.

    I can imagine it would be rough having to find a new church family to connect with, but I’m really hoping for you to have as good an experience as I did in that season of your life. Don’t be afraid to spend it on those around you. As one of my pastors said (approximately): ‘I go to church because I need Jesus, because I need you, and because you need me.’

    Hope that helps,
    Dan R.

  13. Loren Warnemuende

    This hit me:
    “It may seem contrary to all the old hymns which tell us Jesus is all we need, but the truth of the matter is Jesus made us to need other people, too. Otherwise, wouldn’t we all be living on solitary planets with just ourselves and him?”

    We hear so often, “When you need help, do you run to God first, or do you just unload on other people?” I know the intent behind it is good (that is, make sure you’ve got the right focus), but I love how you bring out that God is the one who created relationships and they are vital to our life in Him.

    This morning was the end of a crazy, overwhelming week. I felt I had failed on a number of fronts, mainly with my kids. I had some time alone, and headed to the back yard to read my Bible and pray ’cause I couldn’t face all that had to be done. As I was finishing, my phone rang and it was my mother-in-law. We’re close, but my first thought was, “Lord, I wasn’t done with our time yet!” I answered the phone anyway, and it turned out to be the final peace (spelling intentional) of what I needed. Your words help me understand that even better.

    And I’m with Chris–SYLOM makes me think of Shalom, too.

  14. Julie Silander

    Janna – Thanks so much for putting words to my week (life). I’m not sure if it’s pride or fear that keeps me from reaching out when I should – perhaps a mixture of both. Thanks for the nudge to keep moving forward.

    I’ll never again hear SYLOM without thinking of “Shalom” – Thank you as well, Chris.

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