My mind races and I have the undeniable urge to run out of the room. I grip the arms of my chair to make sure that I don’t. I am about to share a painful childhood experience with a group of near strangers. They are staring at me with kind expectancy. I have willingly agreed to do this for The Allender Center’s Certificate Training program, but now it seems like a foolish, exposing thing to do. Something akin to how I would feel if I went grocery shopping naked.
Why would I choose to write about such a tragic time in my life and then willingly share it with others? Was I crazy? It seems so counter intuitive to everything I have been taught by my parents, the church and well-meaning friends.
As a society, we are encouraged to put the past behind us and press onward and upward. “What’s done is done” and “don’t cry over spilled milk” are two refrains I’ve heard over and over again. Even Paul in the book of Philippians tells us to forget what is behind us and press ahead to the prize that is in Christ.
I had done a great deal of pressing on, yet my spiritual walk had become anything but joyful and life giving. Instead, I felt weary, run down and just getting by with a low-grade numbness invading the crevices of my soul. Could there be another way? Could it be possible that Jesus was asking me to enter some of the more painful stories of my life; stories that I would much rather keep sealed off never to be opened again?
What if maybe, just maybe, Jesus is really behind me, not just ahead of me. What if he is wooing and calling me to write and share some of these painful experiences so that I can find redemption from the pain, patterns and debris of my past that is keeping me from experiencing the abundant life I’ve been promised?
Dr. Dan Allender’s book, To Be Told, resonates deeply with me. He states:
“Our own story is the thing that most influences and shapes our outlook, our tendencies, our choices and our decisions. It is the force that orients us toward the future, and yet we don’t give it a second thought, much less careful examination. It’s time we listen to our own story.”
I guess it was my time.
My voice falters as I begin. I start to read the particular details of one of my painful childhood stories; the Bee Gee song that was playing on the radio, the sting of the hot August sun on my adolescent skin...
We had been instructed by our leader not to narrate our stories as if bystanders casually observing the action from a safe distance, but instead to get back down in the dirt of the story. I was consciously using my senses to kick up the dust as I walk back through it.
I continue reading, allowing the images, sights, sounds and the presence of the characters involved wash over me. I could actually feel myself as that twelve-year old girl again.
I keep sharing this way and as I do my jaw clenches and I feel a heavy knot in the pit of my stomach. The flush of shame rises from my chest into my face as I recount the intense feelings of powerlessness and betrayal that marked me in this particular story. I am walking in the valley of the shadow of death and it feels like hell. Waves of grief come as I experience the pain and agony of this particular time in my life afresh. I somehow finish but the sorrow is deep and the tears continue to flow.
I catch my breath and gather the courage to look up, cautiously making eye contact with my fellow story sojourners who have just witnessed my intense valley walk. Their faces are brimming with tears. Many of them seem to be as shaken as I am.
There is a deafening silence and then something remarkable happens.
They begin speaking beauty into my sad and grief filled soul with curiosity, kindness and compassion. They start making holy observations and pointing out profound truths I had never had eyes to see before. They ask insightful questions and we explore my story more in depth and then, through shared eyes, new truths are revealed to me. This stunning care towards me and my story starts to shake loose a new way of seeing and an unbelievable freedom is being born in its wake. Through this process, I break strong-holds that my past had on me which I didn’t even know existed.
A torn piece of me is sewn back together again.
I feel a shiver of joy rush through me and a lightness of being that I still can’t quite explain.
Since that first time, I have pondered, written and shared other foundational stories from my life and have cried many tears in the process. Each time, I am newly amazed at the transformation that happens when I write and re-enter my stories in this way. It is in and through the valley where I have found freedom from some deep seeded wounds and vows which were keeping me from experiencing the prize of Christ that Paul was speaking of; joy, delight, love, wellness.
Walking in our valley experiences is not for the faint of heart. It can be a treacherous path filled with unexpected twists, turns and precarious land mines. And the fruits of this particular labor make it worth the journey.
Billy Graham once said; "Mountaintops are for views and inspiration, but fruit is grown in the valleys."
How true I have found this on my own healing path. So, what about you? Will you come and spend a little time in your valleys? I promise you, the beautiful, majestic mountains are just on the other side, waiting for you.
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