“I don’t want to go swimming in those waters,” I said. I spoke those words with some quiet determination born of a mixture of great respect for the one who asked, and a genuine aversion to revisiting some of the painful experiences of my past.
“You might think of it this way. It’s not so much choosing to swim in those waters as it is to acknowledge that they are there.” I thought about that and eventually determined to do as he asked. A couple of weeks later I brought the written account of those dirty waters and shared them with this godly and wise-beyond-his-years counselor. When he read them outloud I winced at some of the words I had written. It wasn’t the same as experiencing the pain for the first time. But it was not pleasant.
Though unpleasant it was a step toward healing. I tend to pretend that troubles don’t exist; or at least that they will soon go away if I ignore them long enough. This does not always serve me well, and this was a moment facing the brutal facts.
As we talked, Bruce asked me, “Did you dad talk to you about your feelings when that happened?” He was talking about the death of my sister, his daughter. “No. We didn’t do that,” back then.
“Still,” he said, “wouldn’t that have been helpful?”
“Yeah, but no one knew to do that. It would be like asking someone why they didn’t wear Zirckon (a made-up name) space suits when they went into outer space. They didn’t exist and no one knew we needed them.” I was proving my point, I thought.
“Yes,” he said, “but wouldn’t it have been helpful? Wouldn’t it have been a good thing to help you sort through your feelings?”
“I don’t want to blame my parents for that stuff,” I offered.
“I’m not talking about blame. Wouldn’t it have been helpful to have learned how to process pain in a more healthy manner than just pretending it doesn’t exist? It’s not your parents’ fault, but the pain was still there.” He had asked the question a third time.
One another occasion someone asked a question three times. Like peeling an onion. Layer after layer comes off until you get to the center.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. – John 21:15-17
“What do you think Diane is feeling right now?”
The question caught me off guard. “I feel like a kid in school caught daydreaming. I’m sorry.”
“No problem,” he said, and he went on talking with Diane. A few minutes later he asked, again, “What do you think Diane is feeling right now?”
This time I was ready! “I think she’s feeling kind of frustrated, maybe a little bit hurt, and…” He cut me off with a kind but mildly-dismissive shake of the head and wave of his hand.
A few minutes he asked again, “What do you think Diane is feeling right now?”
“I have no idea,” I said – not defiantly or dismissively. That was the moment, however, when I became more real and out from behind the walls of denial I had built. That’s what Diane said, “I feel like the walls just came down.”
For years I thought she was talking about her walls, and that she was now more willing to make herself available to me. How wrong I was! She saw my walls coming down. I had no answers, only myself – broken as we were.
Blame is simply the other side of the denial coin. In either case we are not dealing with the real issues. If we can blame others, it’s not our fault. It’s theirs to deal with and fix. If we refuse to admit there is a big problem we do not know how to solve, we chain ourselves to the problem we say is not actually there.
When Jesus asked Peter those three times about his love for him, he was helping Peter see more clearly his need for Jesus’ mercy and his higher calling to bring grace and love to others. What questions might Jesus be asking you?