Have you ever glanced around at a social gathering and noticed how easy it all seems for everyone else? The light chatter? The casual bite of cake?
Sometimes I people-gaze from the window of our car, envying the jogger who runs with ease, the elderly home owner who prunes a bush, the father who bikes with his child.
Those common activities are often impossible for me. Some days I’m overwhelmed with how difficult each minute is. Light chatter takes effort as I struggle to breathe. Pruning a bush presents dire consequences – the decision to do it seems too dangerous, so I stay inside when I long to be out. And that cake. Oh, the cake.
My daughter made me a chocolate cake a few days ago. I took a photo of a slice – it’s at the start of this post. Her cake was bakery-level-good. The aroma irresistible. The flavour… don’t get me started. How I longed to scarf down as much as I wanted whenever the cake came out of the fridge. I couldn’t, though. Cake is sweet, and sugar causes certain reactions in the body and dessert is a minefield, best consumed in small bits after a meal, if I want my heart to keep beating properly.
Why can’t my life be as easy as yours?
What’s that you say? Yours isn’t as easy as it seems? Oh. I guess I forgot for a moment. It was the cake. I got carried away.
Sometimes the things others don’t know build up and get rowdy inside of me. The symptoms. The fears. As I click into each call from work with practiced ease, “Thank you for calling, may I help you?” the caller at the other end has no idea what kind of a night I’ve just come through, what kind of a moment I’m having.
I know some of you live lives like this too. Each decision. Each smile. Each light laugh is accompanied by stabbing pain. Throbbing pressure in the head. Fear. A feeling of desperation for that other reality – the one no one is seeing – to end.
It’s hard. I can’t deny this. But where I think we’re wrong is our assumption that we’re alone in our interior world of struggle. Remember the first scene I described? The casual bite of cake and easy chatter? Look again.
I’m not the only one whose internal narrative is not happy. There’s a diabetic in the room who wants the cake more than I do. A young woman with an eating disorder is avoiding all the food. An older lady enjoys the cake, but dies a little with each bite as she thinks about unwanted weight gain she can’t get a handle on. Social anxiety stalks others, making them too queasy to eat.
If we peel back the socially approved glow of good times, we’ll see this stuff. Not everyone navigates struggle in social situations or everyday moments, but many do. If we unmute the secret part of people’s lives I think we’ll hear something akin to a symphony in the room.
In your better moments, keep your eyes and ears open. Notice the things others don’t say. No one wants to be a three-legged beagle surrounded by greyhounds. You don’t have to be. Those greyhounds are as flawed as you are; it’s just hard to see, because most of us hide our struggle.
In the moments when you feel alone, even after reaching out for help and sharing with someone else how hard your week has been, remember that there’s an Inside Man. It’s God. He’s in there with you. No one else experiences your pain, your fear or your thoughts all the time.
But God does.
Every chocolate cake moment is shared. He sees the mix of longing and terror that is gripping you. He knows. In a way that no one else can, He knows.
Savour that truth in your hardest moments. The things others don’t know are known. You are not alone.