Rooms We Try to Hide

Broken door immersed in sand in of the rooms in the ghost town o

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.

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Finding Humanity

Homeless man hands

Our church is located downtown and so it’s not uncommon for some unique characters to be wandering the area. Last night as we were about to begin practice for worship on Sunday when a man wandered in through the back doors so I made my way to the foyer to see how I could help him. His shoulder length salt/pepper hair was pulled back into a loose ponytail. His clothes were layered and worn and his breath smelled strongly of smoke and alcohol. He explained he was looking for the Catholic church that takes people in. I wasn’t sure which one he was talking about and when my husband (who had joined me in the back) mentioned there was another organization that houses people overnight he quickly and emphatically informed us that “he won’t go there!”

It was at this point that the conversation took an…interesting turn. It began with him telling us that he wasn’t homeless and that he was in town for work with a private security agency. Up until this point there was part of me that thought perhaps there was some truth to what he was saying but after this the story escalated beyond what I could have imagined.

The lines of his stories blurred between working for past presidents, attending George H.W. Bush’s burial after he “was shot,” rebuilding “one of the Statues of Liberty”, contributing to the new Star Wars movie, needing to get to such-and-such highway because he has a shipment of 200,000 gallons of oil coming in, and the 12 million dollar paycheck he has coming from the government because he killed one of the four ISIS members that are currently here in town.

If you didn’t follow any of that you’re in good company.

Now, I’m pretty well acquainted with this sort of encounter. When I was 19 years old I spent 3 months living in the Tenderloin Disctrict of San Francisco as a part of YWAM. Just out our front door was a large community of people whose daily existence greatly differed from mine in most ways.

Even with the extent of the homelessness in SF it’s still pretty dang easy to spend a day in the city with blinders on to the poverty and need by strategically planning which streets to visit and which to avoid. But not in YWAM. We were confronted with it daily. Have you seen Pursuit of Happyness? Remember the scene where Will Smith and his son are in line with hundreds of people outside of Glide Memorial Church waiting to get a place to sleep for the night? That was our street. We couldn’t conveniently structure our day to avoid coming face to face with the need at our doorstep. And we weren’t trying to either. We learned their names. We sat with them and listened to their stories. We heard about the careers and families they had lost and the dreams they had long since laid to rest.

My husband and I met at an inner-city church plant. We wandered the streets talking and praying with people that had no permanent address and those whose lives were filled with drugs, alcohol, mental illness and abuse. We discipled prostitutes. We worshiped alongside drug dealers and pimps. It was raw and ridiculously messy. It was unpredictable and unstable.

Through these experiences we learned to see people as people. To see past the brokenness. To look beyond the mistakes and flaws, however grievous they may have been and we saw in them something of ourselves.

Our shared humanity.

Now seven years removed from that environment I confess I’ve gotten much better at putting my blinders on and rerouting to avoid those uncomfortable situations (a fact I’m not proud of). But every once in awhile it becomes unavoidable. Like last night.

We get so good at avoiding these situations because if we look someone in the eye and see their suffering we are compelled to acknowledge their humanity. And if we acknowledge their humanity it leaves us feeling responsible to do something. And if we don’t feel we can help in any measurable ways it leaves us feeling helpless.

Helpless is not a feeling we as humans enjoy. So we strive to avoid it at all costs.

Last night I struggled to bury the feelings of helplessness I was experiencing. I certainly could not cure his mental illness (likely schizophrenia). A few bucks or some food provides a bit of relief, but what really is that in the grand scheme of this man’s life? I felt helpless.

So I did what I knew I could do. I listened. We listened to his madness. We prayed briefly for him, tried to direct him towards a place that could house him for the night and proceeded with our rehearsal.

His name, he told us, is Eddie Monnie “Monet.”

Eddie left something for us. Tied to the door of our church like it was Luther’s 95 theses was a red nylon strap, part of a bicycle handle and two pieces of paper, folded in quarters and wrapped around the door handle secured with rubber bands. One side contained line after line of typed text full of symbols and arbitrary letters, surely amounting to some top secret coded CIA message or perhaps an extraterrestrial language. But the other side was a letter or poem handwritten by Eddie about someone he loved. Here is part of what he wrote:

The pain, the love, just won’t let go. I died everytime you said go. Get a job, go away, why won’t you just die. My heart left me. Every ounce of spirit drained like rain drops like a water fall, like the world crashed and burned. So cold.

You didn’t want me…I love another now since I left you. Now I’m so cold, so old, do I try, do I cry…

-dedicated to Betty. She sacrificed her life for me. She died February 7th, 2017 instead of me–for my sons and my daughters-my girls.

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Who is Betty and did she really die just two weeks earlier? Did he really have sons and daughters? I don’t know nor will I ever, I’m sure. But what I do know is that while Eddie’s mind may not function like yours or mine, his heart does. He feels pain, disappointment, frustration, loneliness and loss. He is aware of the loss of his youth, the loss of his loved one, the loss of what his life might have held.

He is human.

His body feels pain. Cold. Sickness. Hunger.

He is human.

Yet he also must feel the loss of his humanity in the eyes of society at large.

He was once a brand new baby for whom the world was full of promise. He was once a five-year-old boy, perhaps as energetic and joyful at one point as my own five year old son. He had hopes and dreams for his life. There were things that he was skilled at and gifted in. He experienced the awkwardness of middle school, the growing pains of adulthood. Love and loss.

At some point in his life he was probably in his right mind. Mental illness works like that. You may be a normally functioning adult until one day some trauma or simply enough time passing causes you to cross a threshold and the mental illness you were predisposed to finally surfaces. The mind morphs into something unrecognizable. Think Russel Crow in A Beautiful Mind.

There’s a line from a Gungor song that says, “When we see our brother, we’ll all be free.” We can see those around us but do we see them. Do we see people or do we only see their circumstances? Do we only see the bad choices they’ve made, their mistakes and their failings?

Let’s take this further. Do we only see their political affiliation, their religion, their race or their socio-economic standing? Or can we see their humanity? Can we see ourselves and our stories in them? Can we see the faces of our children our parents or our best friends in them?

I’m learning to be more and more comfortable with being uncomfortable in life. I’m confident that although God has plans to prosper us and give us a hope and a future, it’s not just so we can enjoy a long and comfortable life. To whom much has been given much is required. When we insist on surrounding ourselves with pads and bumpers and blinders to insulate ourselves from the world’s suffering we are closing the doors of God’s love. He pours his love into us so we can let it overflow onto the world around us.

And when we don’t feel like we have enough to give, we can let him fill us up again in order to pour out because he is an endless source of love. When we don’t feel we have enough strength to let empathy and compassion run their course in our hearts, we can lean on him. When we feel the discomfort of helplessness we can face it head on knowing that He is the source of all wisdom needed to transform the world into what he intends it to be.

And when we don’t know where to start we can start by allowing ourselves to see those around us. To see with His eyes each person put in our path as one that was created in His image.

To see humanity in every human we come into contact with.

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