When I was younger I used to love browsing greeting cards. I found it entertaining to read the sweet sentiments and clever humor. While I still enjoy the quest to find the “perfect” card for someone, I also find that perusing the wide array of cards can trigger twinges of sadness, too.
One of the first times I felt pain in the greeting card aisle was in May 2008. A bright display of Mother’s Day cards was positioned strategically in the grocery store to make sure no one forgot to say “I love you” to mom on her special day. I wouldn’t have forgotten. In fact, I always purchased a second card along with a Mother’s Day card because my mom’s birthday was May 11 (sometimes the two occasions fell on the same day)! The problem was, that year I had no mom to purchase Mother’s Day and birthday cards for. She had gone to heaven five months earlier. The cards ushered in a wave of sadness as a realized I would never purchase another Mother’s Day card again.
Today I made a trip to the Dollar Store, where the wide selection of inexpensive cards wooed me in. As my eyes swept the different headings, I became painfully aware of how few categories I could buy from. I jumped from section to section: Grandparent cards – no. Mom cards – no. Sister cards – no. Nephew or Niece cards – no. Husband or romantic connection cards – no. Son or daughter cards – no. Grandchildren cards – no. I also noticed the type of cards I had never received: bridal shower, wedding, anniversary, and birth congratulations, to name a few.
We all face reminders of what we’ve lost or of what we’ve never had. Sometimes those twinges of grief or sadness hit us at unexpected moments. While it’s probably not advisable to start bawling uncontrollably in the card aisle, I think it’s healthy to give ourselves permission to acknowledge the pain caused by a loss or an unfulfilled dream. Let’s admit it; it hurts. To bury our feelings and pretend we are “just fine” is as artificial as some of the cheesy greeting cards on the shelf.
In addition to admitting the pain to ourselves, it’s often helpful to share how we’re feeling with others. The first place we can go is to our Heavenly Father. God is immediately accessible and we can whisper a prayer anywhere, anytime and be assured he is listening. He is an ever-present help in times of struggle, and encourages us to cast our cares upon him.
We can also seek out earthly friends. Recently I was carrying (and trying to hide) my deep frustration about an ongoing struggle. In a moment of vulnerability I shared how I was feeling with a trusted person in my life. While my friend couldn’t “fix” the situation, the simple act of verbalizing how I felt lifted my spirits. In return, I need to be that safe place for my friends when they need to share their areas of pain.
The reality is, very few people have a reason to buy cards from every section of the Hallmark store. Each of our lives unfolds differently, and everyone skips certain sections of the card racks. In addition, most of us end up receiving cards we wish we didn’t have to, like those that arrive when we are ill or have lost a loved one. In truth, the greeting card aisle can be a reminder of painful things. But, it can also be an indicator of life’s blessings.
My scrapbooks and file boxes are overflowing with cards from precious people over the years . . .birthday cards, holiday cards, graduation cards, congratulations cards, encouragement cards, thank you cards, sympathy cards, and “just-because” cards. They remind me that my life has been rich in experiences and in relationships with amazing friends and family. And I have sent oodles of cards in return, celebrating their joys and expressing my support during their losses.
The next time I go card shopping, I won’t be afraid to admit it if a sneak attack of pain comes along with the task. If it does, I know that God and my friends are available to get me through it. I’ll also strive to be thankful for the opportunity in front of me. As I hunt for the ideal card, I will think of the intended receiver – and be grateful for that person’s presence in my life. And I’ll remember that the simple act of hand-picking a card, writing a personal note, and sending it may be just the encouragement my friend needs to deal with the greeting card aisles in his or her life.
“Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you . . .” Psalm 55:22 (NIV)
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18 (NIV)
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up . . .” I Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV)
“Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2 (NASB)