With permission, I’m sharing a letter I received that is so powerful, revealing the angst of healing from the past. I love her words, and I know you will resonate. Have you ever just wanted to be okay?
I read Thin Places, and many of the details are my same story: growing up in the Pacific Northwest in the 1970s, sexually abused at age five, teaching middle school, church planting, married to a good man who tirelessly works to make the second half of my life better than the first half.
I recently told a group of friends that I wish someone had come along in my darkest moments growing up and simply said: “I know.” Your book had that quality for me, so thank you for writing it.
With my story of abuse, I am a latecomer to the table. That is to say, until about two years ago I could not see how sharing the story was in any way relevant to any conversation, or indeed, to any part of my life.
Then one day, though I didn’t hear a voice or anything, but I knew God said quite plainly: ”You know, there’s not one person who cares about you who would agree that the story was insignificant.”
Thus began a journey into the past that I’ve been very resistant to take. Then, after a terrifying dissociative episode coupled with anxiety that was out of control, I realized that perhaps I should stop trying to do the journey by myself. So I found myself a therapist and I started talking.
“Therapy:” I joked early on that when I lost my attitude, I’d stop using quotation marks when I referred to it. Despite my very cynical nature, therapy has been good.
It’s funny: I thought the hard work would be talking through the memories of my childhood and uncovering the hurt. I think the most poignant moment so far was when I realized that I just want to be told– to know– that I’m okay. “Okay” is an undervalued word, but it is very calming.
I don’t need to know how great I am, because as a person who has worked so hard to feel valued, that just reinforces my need to keep working hard. But to be okay is just to “be.” Though in truth, I have no idea what it feels like to be okay or how to just be.
Here’s the thing: uncovering that hurt isn’t the truly hard work. No, the real work is retooling my thinking to actually believe and live like I am okay.
Now I must stop being forever the tragic victim, reliving the hurt over and over again in a thousand different scenarios, proving to myself it’s what I deserve. As Jason Gray (recording artist) says, “pain’s an addiction that keeps me buried alive.”
I’m not going to lie:
- I am the paralytic at the pool. Do I really even want to get well?
- I’m a shy first grader standing in the shadows, hoping somebody will notice that I am lonely, because though my lonely heart is breaking, it’s so much easier than entering in and risking rejection.
I tell my therapist I don’t know how to be a person and she challenges me: “Examine that statement. Is that really true?”
And I sigh and smile and look down, “no, I guess not.”
What did I expect out of therapy? Some magical breakthrough moment that would forever render me “healed” and instantly more tolerable to the people around me (and to myself) so that I’d no longer have to navigate a world of real and perceived rejection?
There is no magic: only work.
It is, after all, hard work to believe I’m okay; hard work to be okay. But I suppose it’s productive work and that’s what makes the difference.
The scientific definition of work is “using force to move an object over a distance.” Every year I ask my science students: “If you push all day against a wall and it doesn’t move, have you done any work?” Then I’ll ask, “But would you be tired?” Of course, pushing all day against something that doesn’t move is exhausting, but it is not work, so it is meaningless effort.
It is very tiring not being okay. It takes a lot of energy, like pushing a wall that never moves. I suppose “being okay” is exerting energy moment by moment to remove the wall brick by brick. It’s that tearing down of strongholds (2 Cor. 10:4). It’s work, but it’s honest work.
That is where I am, and hopefully a glimpse of who I am. I share it with you because… Why? I’m not sure exactly. Maybe because I sense that you know and understand.
PS: This song has deep meaning for me. Change a few details and it could be my story. As a song, it does not wrap up into a tidy metaphor but that is why I like it.