The Confession of a Therapist
Pintrest boards, calligraphy font on canvas, gift shop worthy knickknacks attempt to inspire with a catchy phrase like, “Do what you love.” I can humbly say yes to that.
Week after week, I step into the four walls of my office, sit across a face or two or sometimes more, and am invited to the sacred place of entering into their lives. I am invited as a guest to inquire, be curious (and as my family would say, be nosy) about what experiences has shaped them and how they have made meaning of their world.
The initial invitation is to heartache, confusion, despair, loneliness, hopelessness, doubt and shame. It’s risky, costly. It’s messy and convoluted. It’s a battle between good and evil and oftentimes, with evil seeming to have the upper hand. It’s hard work that requires something of me, a whole lot of the other. But it’s a fight worth fighting because the fight is for life and life abundantly (John 10:10) and for freedom to run the race marked out for them (Hebrews 12:1-2).
But what happens when the fight is outside the defined borders of an office suite and when it is no longer contained in an hourly appointment? What happens when brokenness is present within the walls of my home where I eat, sleep and where I turn in my therapist hat to be a mom, a wife, a daughter and sister?
Clients often reach out for therapy looking for a solution to their difficult circumstances. Unbearable tension and conflict within themselves and in their relationships prompt the call. A spouse, a parent, a family member or an individual all plead a similar cry, “Tell me what I can do to make things better. How do I make __________, fill in the blank, go away? How do I fix it?” When brokenness is up close, I too am desperate for the same answers. I want a fix-it panacea.
Fix-it is the desire to escape reality, the reality that brokenness singles no one, has no favorites and evades none. I default to fix-it because I am terrified to step into the terrain of what’s so personal and dear – my children, my spouse, my own heartache. I seek a quick fix because I can’t bear to see a more fuller, truer version. It’s too daunting, too painful and I don’t know if I’ll make it through to the end of the journey and if I do, if I would have merely survived or if there will be more fullness of life.
Like an infant in a game of peek-a-boo who believes that what you can’t see does not exist, I too want to cling to this kind of simplicity, naiveté. I want to close my eyes and believe that brokenness is limited, contained to the professional arena. I want to believe that the office walls bear witness to tragedy and heartache, not the walls of my kitchen, bedrooms, and hallways. And from the recesses of my gut, bellows a wrenching, NO!
At Gethsemane, Jesus, moments before his arrest and eventual execution, dropped to the ground. With his body attesting to his deep anguish, his humanity cried out, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. …” It was a protest against all that was evil. But knowing that resurrection would be impossible without death, his “if it is possible” prayer is followed by “Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Matthew 26:39 New Living Translation)
My naïve, wishful thinking keeps me living in fantasy. I espouse, “Things are not that bad. I should be thankful, it could be a lot worse.” Meanwhile, I am disconnected from reality and even more helpless than if I were to open my eyes and see with more truth. So while the wilderness is unpredictable, unpleasant, risky and dangerous, there’s no other way.
In the Biblical narrative of the Israelite’s exodus from oppression in Egypt, their first stop was the wilderness. There, in the in-between place, between the evil of Egypt and the land flowing with milk and honey, they were met by the barrenness of the land, monotony of meals and a time of waiting. It was also a time of unlearning before learning the way of life that bore the identifying mark of a people who’s god is the I AM. Their personal and national story was to tell of rescue and redemption. And for the first time since the great tragedy in Eden, God would tabernacle, dwell among them. Sadly, the desert was fraught with impatience, fears, doubts, distrust and idols. They made lofty claims and hurled false accusations that God brought them into the desert only to die from starvation (Exodus 16:3) and thirst (17:3). The consequence of their repeated rejection of God and refusal to live a life worthy of the people of God meant that they would spend an additional 40 years in the wilderness while an entire generation died without ever setting foot on the promised land.
How will my wilderness chapter read?
Will I turn to God in psalms and prayers of lament? Will it end with a story of the goodness of God? Will the laments turn to a kind of worshipful declaration that God is indeed the bread of life (John 6:35) and giving of water (John 4:14)? Will “God is good” hold complexity and depth, both faith and hope? Or will I be tempted for a fairy tale happily-ever-after ending?
Michael Card in A Sacred Sorrow writes,
“True worship begins in the wilderness. Praise is almost always the answer to a plea that arises in the desert. … But the power of these realizations only comes to light in the dim, blinding light of the wilderness, in the context of hunger and thirst for His presence; in those situations when we cannot feel His hesed [loving kindness] for us. … There is no worship without wilderness. There can be no worshipful joy of salvation until we have realized the lamentable wilderness of what we were saved from, until we begin to understand just what it cost Jesus to come and find us and be that perfect provision in the wilderness.”
And so, a divine appointment waits in the wilderness.