Responding to the cliché “Just Hang in There!”

To kick off this new series, I’d thought I’d share about the cliché I mentioned in my previous post. Here it is, the number one cliché that is not helpful at all to me: “Just hang in there!” There is a popular inspirational poster with this catch-phrase printed underneath the picture of a cute kitten dangling from a rope. I am all about cats and would have loved to dwell on this image, but instead it angered me. I felt like when someone said this to me, it was their weak attempt at conjuring up something to say and it would have been better if they hadn’t said anything at all.

See, I felt like I was hanging onto nothing! I didn’t even have a fingernail on a rope because there was no rope. I likened the panic swirling through me to going skydiving, and on the way down, realizing my parachute won’t open. The person who said that phrase to me on multiple occasions was aware of how desperate I was in my Postpartum struggle and had experienced it herself. So, I knew that she could understand and empathize with how I felt. I guess she just couldn’t help saying it because it was so ingrained in her farewell ritual. The cue that our phone conversation was at an end was always something like “Take care and just hang in there!” every single time. After we hung up, I’d stare at the phone and wonder how in the world I was supposed to hang in there when there was nothing I could grab onto?!

The word “hanging” in itself brought up images of powerlessness.  I remember thinking, “am I just to exist in this awful free-fall until someone swoops in to help me? Will anyone save me?” So many things were outside of my control. I couldn’t change my circumstances, I couldn’t change the surges of hormonal levels in my body, I didn’t know when I would have a panic attack or when my baby would wake up crying in the middle of the night. I gave into the feeling of powerlessness and it led to despair.

BUT I was NOT powerless. And there was/is always someone to help.  Even in the moments of my deepest depression and anxiety, I could turn from falling to solidly standing on the Rock. I fought hard against the idea of that free-fall and went through an exercise called “Guided Imagery,” which is a skill that a family member with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy training suggested I try. I based this type of meditation on any Biblical verse that used the metaphor of God being my rock. Here are some to ponder over:

  • Psalm 18:2 “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge…”
  • Psalm 18:31 “For who is God besides the LORD? And who is the Rock except our God?
  • Psalm 62:7-8 “On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.
  • Psalm 71:3 “Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.
  • Deuteronomy 32:4 “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.

So, with my Bible opened to one of the verses above in case I got distracted, I would close my eyes and imagine something similar to the following scene. 

Beginning with the panoramic view, I visualize a wide and vast ocean with swirling and tossing waves as far as I can see. The sky is full of dark, grey clouds pouring out rain and making the water bubble and churn. The howling wind circles and pushes against me. There is turbulence above and below and all around. Then, a massive, solid rock protrudes out of the middle of the tempest. The rock is rough, jagged in places, and a dark slate color. Then, I imagine myself standing upon that rock and what it would feel like. I think of what it might feel like to have the rain pound down on my head, the feeling of my clothes being thoroughly soaked through and hanging heavy on my body. I think what it would sound like to hear the wind whip through the air and the crash of the waves against the rock. And though the rock is slick with rain from above and the churning water below, my feet do not even slip on the wet surface (Psalm 121:3). I imagine feeling the rock under my feet and tell myself that I was standing on the most solid thing imaginable: Jesus. My thoughts would then turn to prayer. I’d cry out to God and ask Him to ground me, get me through, give me a desire to keep living and to keep living well. 

What this exercise would do for me was to remind me that I am incapable of “hanging in there”. Should I try to hold on to anything with my own strength, I would quickly be swept away by my oceans of doubt and find myself lost at sea with no hope of rescue. It is Jesus who holds onto me and promises to never let me go. “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you” (Joshua 1:5). And I don’t have to “hang in there” because Christ hung on the cross on my behalf. He was the one who truly had nothing to cling to and received all the chastisement due me so that I would be counted as righteous in God’s eyes (Isaiah 53). Because he endured such pain, I could continue enduring mine. 

If someone says “just hang in there” to you and it irks you a bit, a good response might be along the lines that God has you in the palm of his hand. That’s what I hope I’ll respond with the next time someone says this to me. Or I could quote Isaiah 41:10 which says “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Lord, help us to trust in You, our mighty Savior, to sustain us!

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