Facing Evil

grievingLike many of you, the shootings in Newtown, CT have stirred lots of feelings… horror, anger, deep grief. I’ve thought of my niece who teaches in a school. I’ve thought of my great nephew who is almost six and proudly in kindergarten. I’ve thought about Christmas presents that will never be given and stockings that will never be explored. I’ve thought about my friends who have buried their children, for no matter the age of the child it is always an unnatural act. I’ve been angry at how easy it is to get a gun and how hard it is to get help for mental illness.

And I’ve thought about evil.

As I write, we know little of the shooter and so I cannot say he is evil, as easy as that would be to do. We do not know if wires were short-circuited in his brain or demons lay undiagnosed. We just do not know yet, if we will ever know. But I thought about evil because that is my point of connection.

While my blogs are usually personal reflections this one is more personal than most. Many things have conspired in service of my knowing that it was time to speak.

He was the proverbial stranger. I don’t really know how we met. I only remember where he lived because for many years and by whatever methods, I was a regular visitor to his house of horrors. From childhood well into adolescence he abused me in every way imaginable and in some ways that were truly unimaginable to me.

I don’t toss around the word evil casually but in this case the label fits. How else can you describe someone whose joy is inflicting pain and provoking terror in very small children? In anyone?

Shame and humiliation and rape and pain were his weapons of choice. But also guns and knives. I know what it is to have a gun at my head and why I didn’t die, I’ll never know.

I don’t know how I survived physically, let alone emotionally or spiritually. I don’t know why I was given a chance that those children in Newtown were not. I don’t even know if why is a terribly valid question.

One of the things that I do know is that in the midst of the profoundly dangerous hours in his basement I also had many safe places in my life.

Spirit was safe for me. Both at home and at church I was told stories of a God who loved me. The fact is, no child was ever welcomed into the world with more gladness, the rejoicing both of my mother who had prayed long and hard for a little girl and of a neighborhood who’d seen only the birth of boys for many years. I was the kid who broke the string.

Both at home and at church I was told of a God who loved me, no matter what. No one ever used fear or intimidation as messengers of the gospel, as if such a thing could be possible. If they had… if I had somehow gotten a fear inducing God mixed up with a fear inducing abuser, I don’t know what would have become of me.

But it didn’t. And I survived. I survived with enough intactness to do things like school and career, to develop deep and intimate friendships. To laugh. To appreciate and join in my family’s propensity for puns. I don’t take such things lightly. And I survived with enough courage to do the grueling work of healing.

I sometimes tell clients that stubbornness can be a virtue and in this case, it has been for me. Somehow my stubborn self found a way through the horror and walled it off from the rest of my life so that I could indeed be a silly sixth grader or be giddy about my date to the prom. As an adult, my stubborn self kept me going even when I had every excuse for stopping my healing. When money was tight my stubborn self made sure money for therapy came first. When no cell in my body wanted to walk into the therapist’s office because I knew what I would have to confront when there, my stubborn self pushed me out of the car and through her door.

There is much work that needs be done in secret and that is how it should be and how it needs to be. But there comes a time when keeping the secret means colluding with our abusers, holding onto the shame they so freely passed on to us. Sometimes we survive and we heal, and those of us who have been granted both of those graces owe a responsibility to use our voices in whatever way is right for us.

From time to time I am reminded – or have to be reminded – that the light is more powerful than the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. It’s a hard word to write right now, knowing that the darkness has indeed snuffed out the light of so many. But we who survive, be it surviving the dangers of our own particular worlds or simply surviving on this planet while others are killed, we who survive are entrusted with the responsibility of carrying their light forward.

Over the last twenty years, every decision I have made about my work has been made in the context of my survival. The fact of my life is a gift and I am bound to be good steward of that gift.

While it is more dramatically true for some, in reality it’s true for all of us. Are we good stewards of the lives we have been given?

We have been entrusted with the light, and by our lives we reflect its shining or contribute to darkness. The light is in the causes for which we stand and for which we work, even when they are neither easy nor expedient. It is in the hundred odd choices we have each day as to whether or not we will walk with kindness, love mercy and do justice.

I cannot bring those children back. I can do what is mine to do to help create a world where other children are not targets, where division is not celebrated and violence is not glorified.

At my church this morning, in addition to the chaos of a services altered at the last minute we were were faced with a power outage in the sanctuary. No organ, no sound system and no lights. As the guitar choir played the prelude and the choir gathered for the processional, suddenly the lights came on and we all caught our breath. And so it is.

Darkness makes an appearance, so impudent to come breaking into this season of light. We mourn and grieve and shake our fists at the heaven for the profound wrongness of it all. But sooner or later we who survive come around, we must come around to remembering the light that shines even in this darkness.

May we who live commit ourselves to being light and to shining light and to creating spaces for light in this world, even in this world that sometimes falls into the deep darkness.

Getting Uncomfortable

In a discussion a therapist was touting the feedback process she used with her clients. The clients took a brief survey before and after the session. The survey measured, among other things, the therapeutic connection between client and couselor.

I argued strongly against such a thing. I’m not opposed to feedback, but I couldn’t imagine this working well in my world. First of all I’m an introvert. Introverts like to process things internally before we share them with the outside world. There’s no way I could give feedback on a session that had just occurred, except maybe to say the room had been too hot or too cold. In fact, asking me to do so would probably disrupt my process.

But my second objection comes from the therapist side of me. I’ve had more than one client tell me, after we’ve been working together for a while, how angry I made them at one point or another. They’d tell me of how they left my office in anger, half vowing never to come back. Before the next appointment rolled around they’d cooled off and showed up to keep working but an in-the-moment evaluation might have been a little misleading. Much, much later they could tell me that they understood now why I said what I did and why it was ultimately helpful for them.

I thought about hat this morning as  I reading Brené Brown’s discussion of the importance of normalizing discomfort. (in Daring Greatly.) She argues that if we’re not willing to be uncomfortable we cannot ever grow. She tells her students at the beginning of class: “If you’re comfortable, I’m not teaching and you’re not learning.”

Our resistance to discomfort restricts our life and our living in so many ways. We pass on taking the walk or the hike or even the run because it’s too hot or too cold or it might rain or it might challenge us to go beyond where we think we can go. We miss the chance to improve our mental and physical (and perhaps even spiritual) health. We miss the gifts small and large that we stumble across while doing such a thing.

ImageOr we don’t put ourselves out there and take a chance by doing something we are not already convinced we can do adequately, if not well. we’ll never know if we could have ever done that thing because we were too afraid of failing at it. We screen out all ideas that are unlike ideas we already have because considering something new may change the way we think – and that’s uncomfortable.

Or we hold onto ways of coping that worked years ago but hold us back because it’s what we know. If we’ve spent a lifetime putting ourselves down because we had little or no self esteem it can be pretty uncomfortable to begin to think differently. Who am I if I am not all of those terrible things people told me I was?

As a host we invite people to be comfortable. “Why don’t we move our conversation into the den where it’s more comfortable?” Yet sometimes life offers us a different invitation: Why don’t you step into this place that’s really uncomfortable? The thing is that such an invitation can be one of the greatest gifts in our lives.

Are you willing to risk a little discomfort?