Rachel Leavitt is a nurse, doula, educator, wife, and mother. She has two children who are now adults, with whom she has walked side by side with as they struggled with addictions, emotional trials, and explorations of faith. She currently has two teens still at home, a pre-teen, and two toddlers. Children have taught her what it means to love and be loved. She currently serves as a counselor in the primary and has also served with the young women.
It was a strange moment for me. I felt like I was standing on holy ground. Typically the spirit filled me during moments of quiet reflection, prayer or deep gratitude. But this night, the holy ground was at the foot of my daughter, who was drunk and in despair.
She was facing a major decision in her own mind, whether or not it was worth it to live. I don’t really know or understand all the decisions she had made in her life that led up to this point, or what internal challenges she faced. I do know that at that moment in time, as I watched her wrestle with her own internal demons, her final decision to live and move forward felt just as sacred as anything else I had felt before.
Since that time, a lot of hard decisions, mistakes, and growth has happened for all of the members of our family, Some of the major ones have included an understanding of the role I played, the role my children played, and the role Christ plays as we have worked through the process of intentionally choosing to live and find meaning in that life, trials and all.
One of the major hurdles for me, as a parent, was coming to understand who I can and can’t control, the role of agency, and the role of the atonement. The Church’s addiction recovery program did a lot to help me understand these concepts more fully.
As I grew in understanding, the idea of “holding space” for my daughter kept coming back to me as the way to help her work through difficult emotions and choices. (Mourn with those that mourn.) With that said, I’d like to share some tips that may be helpful to parents and Church leaders as they wade through difficult challenges with those they love and minister to.
A Safe Place
I was first introduced to this concept as a labor and delivery nurse and doula helping women in labor. The idea is that pain needs a safe place to be expressed and worked through. A place that is free of judgment and filled with supportive love.
The basic idea of holding space is that you are creating a space that will allow someone to feel and express powerful and/or painful ideas; acknowledge the pain, and then move forward to allow healing and transformation.
That night, with my daughter, was when I really began holding space for the hard work she had to do in choosing to live.
We can help create a loving, gentle space. A place where they feel safe enough to fail and pick themselves back up again. A place where they won’t feel permanently broken or harmed. A place that will allow the Atonement to work within them.
Creating that Space
In order to create this space, we need to:
- Suspend judgment
- Bring our whole presence and
- Resist the need to fix or control the person.
We are acting in a supportive role, not a fixing role. In doing this, it allows God to take the reins and gently fill the expanse of that space you are creating. It also allows a place to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.
Guidance and Advice Should Be Given Carefully and Thoughtfully
When giving advice in general, but especially when dealing with someone who desperately needs a safe space:
- Don’t give any advice if it makes them feel foolish or shamed
- Offer advice if they ask for it or if they don’t even know what to ask for
- Or, obviously, if you feel a strong prompting from the Spirit.
Remember Who is in Control
One of the first things we have to understand is who actually has control of the situation. It is not you. It is the person experiencing the pain and God, so your ego needs to stay out of the equation. It’s important to remember:
- Their success is not dependent on your interventions
- Their failure is not your fault
- Their emotions are not about you at all.
Give Them Permission to Trust Their Ability
When someone is in a great deal of emotional pain, they often feel powerless. Thus, where possible, strive to follow these additional insights:
- Try not to take away their decision-making power
- Give them permission to trust their own ability to call on God themselves and find their own answers from heaven
- Help them recognize what the Spirit feels like and how God speaks to them. (Hint: it is never through shame, fear, or hate; those are Satan’s tools).
Be an Emotional Support
Although we may not be able to empathize or understand the level of pain the person is going through, it is critical to give them the opportunity to express their pain and feel that they are heard. Now is not the time to “fix” their thinking or make excuses for those who have harmed them. Instead, as we listen to their pain:
- Don’t feed the emotional issues or join in the negativity
- Be sure to validate and not negate the thoughts and feelings of those expressing the emotions; they are real and painful to them.
Remember it is Their Decision
Allow them to come to their own decisions, which may be different than yours. Choosing life, finding meaning in life, and coming to understand God, is a unique journey. It only makes sense that decisions will take us in different courses, and we may not understand the course that they need to take.
Care for Yourself
Be sure to do those things that take care of yourself in the gospel and God’s love. Allow God to be in charge, not you. Embrace the atonement and forgiveness in your own life. We are bound to make mistakes in our effort to help, but God knows this. This was the exact reason Christ came to earth. When our own efforts fall short, as they will, allow the Atonement to take root in your own heart. Make the needed repairs and let Christ be the healer.
The Process of Becoming More
The gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to become something more than who we are now. Sometimes, particularly for teens or those who are dealing with challenging emotions, that space between who we are now and who we are working to become can be painful and perilous. (Walk through the valley of the shadow of death.) That space can be raw and vulnerable. It helps to have someone soften that space and allow the light of Christ to enter. In this way, we can become a conduit of God’s love as He brings healing to those who suffer.