Most guests that come to our house will never see our bedroom. It is always last on the cleaning priority list. The front step is swept, the kitchen and bathroom are clean and the living/dining room is tidied, vacuumed and dusted. But the bedroom…the bedroom stays hidden behind a closed door. Because behind that door is all my dirty laundry. Piled up on top of the laundry basket. And the clean clothes are probably still in baskets on the bed… which is probably not made.
We all have rooms we try to hide. Not literal rooms in our house, although maybe you have a room in your house like mine that stays hidden. But we all experience events, moments or seasons which can negatively affect us.These difficult experiences are like rooms in our house we never let anyone see. Like the west wing in the Beast’s castle that no one is allowed into because what is carefully sheltered there is far too fragile, too vulnerable, and too important to give access to just anybody. It contains his past, his present, his future and the truth of who he is.
One of the defining experiences in my life was growing up without a father. I’ve never kept that fact a secret. However, I’ve only admitted to a select few that this experience left an indelible mark on me. This is the room I tried to hide.
Even as I type those words I’m tempted to shut the screen on my laptop and be done with this right now. To share this part of my world, my heart…this room…with any who choose to read seems a little dangerous.
If I share my struggle without the promise of you also sharing yours, I’ve made myself vulnerable. You now have information that can be used to hurt me.You can judge me. You can look at me with condescending eyes. Or you can roll your eyes as you read and write me off as overly emotional or dramatic.
You can see me for who I really am.
And so the self-preservation instinct inside screams that it’s not worth the risk.
But alas, I’m still typing.
So often we keep our struggles, weaknesses, temptations, hurts and failures hidden from the view of others. Yet we can’t hide it from ourselves. When faced with someone else’s pain we get uncomfortable because its in these moments our own skeletons come knocking, begging to be let out into the light.
But this would be too painful. So we lock the door and throw away the key. We get tough. We get strong. We say we’ve moved on. Or we simply refuse to acknowledge that the room even exists.
I’ve been there. I’m still there in some areas. I’ve been tough. I was commended at one point for not letting the fact that I grew up without a father affect me. It was a well-intended, passing comment, yet it served to reinforce my hiding. This moment made such an impression on me that, out of countless others, it remains with me today.
The message I received was that having an impermeable heart was commendable. And so the muscles of my heart began to tighten and the soft tissue began to harden.
I held a sense of secret pride in the fact that I didn’t need a father. To admit that I had a need would mean I was needy. It would leave me weaker than everyone else (or so I thought). It would make me less than. It would mark me as flawed. And it would leave me helpless. I had no control over this situation so to admit my need, even to myself was foolish. If I didn’t need anyone I couldn’t be disappointed by them.
Yet underneath all of my “strength” I was broken. I didn’t even realize it. Until I was 18 years old and God began to tug at this area. We can really learn a lot when we pay attention to our emotions. Brene Brown calls it “getting curious about our emotions” in her book Rising Strong. When we start to ask questions about the emotions that rise up in us it shines an incredible amount of light on the deeper issues of our heart.
Many people wouldn’t consider themselves emotional simply because they don’t cry. Sometimes we forget that anger, jealousy, hatred, pride, resentment and bitterness are also emotions. We just don’t generally associate these emotions with weakness—the element of emotion that really makes us uncomfortable. Yet anger can be a cover-up for shame. Hatred for others can stem from self-hatred which resulted from abuse. Pride and jealousy can be masking insecurity. Resentment and bitterness are often the result of deep hurt from past betrayal.
Pain, in many forms, is swirling beneath the surface of our so-called “strength.”
We fear being seen as weak, fractured, broken, or in need. Instead we prop up our broken and hurting selves with crutches and call it strength. We call it courage. We call it “overcoming.”
Yet we’re bleeding our dysfunction all over the people around us.
We compete and we strive. We shift blame and cover our mistakes. We try to find our significance in career and family successes. We perfect our perfectionism and fill our gaps with cars and clothes. We quit jobs and we quit relationships when they get tough because that seems easier and less painful than facing the depth of our need and the reality of our brokenness.
Ignoring our weaknesses and fractured places is not strength. Looking at them face to face is true courage. Shoving pain down and “moving on” is the cowards way out. Admitting your need to need is strong and courageous. Going to others when you’re hurting is brave. “Dealing” with it on your own is cowardice.
It’s time we redefine strength and courage.
It’s much easier to fake emotional strength than to become emotionally strong through the pain of process.
When I began to get curious about my emotions instead of shoving them beyond reach I realized that what I was feeling was loss. I could no longer deny the mark fatherlessness had left on me.
Once I faced the truth that the father gap in my life had indeed created a deficit, I was able to see that I had also pushed God, the Father, to the corners of my life. Sure God was real in my life, but the only God I really knew was a religious God who was happy with me because I followed the rules. I had no grace for others because I had no grace for myself. I was tough. I protected myself by judging others before they could judge me.
But as I allowed God into my fractured places I learned that he could fill those voids. I learned that he actually loved me in all of my mess. Personally. Regardless of my failures.
Because he’s not just a deity, he’s a Father. A good one.
I learned that my need doesn’t make me flawed, it makes me human. My weakness doesn’t make me less-than, it makes me eligible to receive his strength. My brokenness brought me to surrender—breaking down the barricade I had set up and allowing God to come and heal, restore and fill the gaps.
What we keep hidden in dark corners holds power over us. When we bring it into the light it loses all power. No longer can the shadows keep us from owning up to our past experiences, hurts and failures and all of the brokenness that comes with it. We don’t have to be controlled by anger, shame, fear or bitterness. And we don’t have to live up to some standard of perfection where we never have any need in our lives or make any mistakes or have any weaknesses.
When we hide in Him instead of in the shadows of our brokenness, we take on his strength. His identity, His righteousness. It’s at this point that it doesn’t even matter how others respond. There is such freedom in facing our brokenness in light of who he is that other’s opinions no longer hold much weight.
We can fearlessly let people into the rooms we’ve kept locked up. Dirty laundry and all. That is freedom.