I once knew an 80+ year old woman who was sweet and faithful and thoroughly unwilling to accept invitations to lead anything in our church. She was asked by the Women’s Group to lead one of the “Circles.” She was approached about serving as a Deacon. She always said “no.” I remember her telling me that she “was not worthy” to do such things.
Sitting with her as her husband lay dying over many hours for many days, she told me stories about her childhood. She was the oldest of three sisters whose parents had died when they were very young. A married couple in town wanted to adopt the sisters but G. had scoliosis and the couple told her that they would not adopt her until she had back surgery to correct her posture. First of all, there is no surgery that will correct scoliosis and secondly, G had no capacity to pay for surgery. But after her sisters were adopted, the couple who would eventually become her new parents suggested that she beg for money on the streets and when she’d collected “enough” they would adopt her too.
Lord help us.
The human capacity to damage other humans physically, emotionally, and spiritually is devastating. And we all have stories that have made us who we are today – in dark ways.
- The teacher who humiliated us.
- The parent who beat us.
- The housefire that took everything from us.
- The childhood illness that debilitated us.
- The sibling’s childhood illness that made us feel invisible.
- That time we lived in a car.
- That time Dad left and didn’t come back.
- That time the Pastor told me “it’s our secret.”
Perhaps you have no such stories in your own life. Or maybe you do. The dark stories of our childhood do not have to ruin our adulthoods, but we have to tell those stories to work things out so that our lives will be what they were created to be.
I wish my parishioner G had told someone her story about being forced to beg in the streets long before she told me that day in the hospital. It was the first time she could bring herself to talk about it and she had carried it for 80 years.
Just as we need to hear the tragic stories of our nation’s history, just as we need to hear the hard truths about God’s people, we need to share the stories of our lives that keep us in dark places. Our personal histories – no matter how shameful or broken they might be – can become our super power. But we have to process them.
Here are three books I’m reading in hopes of doing that:
What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing by Bruce D. Perry and Oprah Winfrey
All our stories – of national heritage, of faith traditions, of personal experiences – impact who we are in our deepest souls. I was thinking that all the COVID months of isolation might be a good time to do some hard soul work.
But it occurs to me – as “returning” from COVID feels a little overwhelming – that it’s post-COVID when we will do some of our best soul work.
This post is written in grateful memory of Steve Austin.