I was cleaning my kitchen yesterday evening. My mind will wander and open up when I clean my kitchen, scrub the counters, and unload the dishwasher. It must be akin to the Shower Principle. We do something so familiar to us that our minds are free to wander into the spaces that we perhaps usually protect and even keep sentries posted over because we’re not paying attention in that moment. I think that those can be the best moments. We’ve made room for God to speak to us or even room for the other parts of ourselves to expand.
As I was noticing spots on the kitchen floor that needed cleaning, a question rang out in my mind: “Why did you never believe what your father said to you?”
That’s an old question, and I laughed about it when I noticed it drift into the forefront of my mind. My father didn’t say much to me as a child or teenager, but when he did it was usually cruel and verbally violent. Later in life when I was in therapy, I would tell my therapists the things my father had said in order to describe his character. They would always stop me in an effort to see into me. How was I? How damaged was I because of his words? How deep did his words go? I would often say, “Oh, he was full of shit. I knew that.” Sure, he had a profound effect on me, but it wasn’t his words that affected me. It was his presence. Forced association with someone like him will always affect someone. Abuse affects people. There is no way around that even if you know that they are inherently warped.
The question remained: “How did you know as a child that your father’s words were not to be believed? Children don’t usually know that. Where did you get that resiliency?”
I could never answer them. I always assumed that God had somehow protected me. He had acted as some kind of buffer, but I never understood why I never really believed my father or, consequently, his second wife who could match and exceed anything my father ever said.
I pondered that random question as I noticed stains on the cabinets. “Why did I not believe anything they said? I thought they were idiots.”
Then, a memory came to mind. It was vibrant and full-color. I was possibly four years-old. My father was still living with my mother. It was early morning, and I was in my parents’ bed. My father was sitting on the edge of the bed putting on his shoes, preparing to leave for work. I leaned over the edge of the bed and observed his shoes. Even as a 4 year-old, I was horrified, and I made no effort to hide my feelings. I boldly said, “Dad, those are the ugliest shoes I have ever seen.” He actually laughed. My father wasn’t a man to laugh easily. In some ways, this is a bittersweet memory for me. I don’t have many good memories of my father. Mostly, he terrorized me.
I sat with that memory of my father’s ugly 1970s Hush Puppies–some of the ugliest shoes ever made–and I wondered why that memory came to mind in relation to my unusual childhood resiliency. I talked to God about it. “What’s here that I’m missing?”
“You didn’t believe your father because you questioned his ability to be right. If he was wrong about those shoes, then what else could he be wrong about? You believed that it was possible that he could be completely wrong about you so you chose not to believe him.”
I laughed out loud. Really? My love of beautiful shoes contributed to my resiliency and, thusly, helped me survive a horrific childhood? That’s actually awesome.
I share this because this does relate to a broader idea. This speaks to our design as human beings. This relates to you. We are all gifted in some way. For theists, we believe that God designed us with those gifts in mind, but you don’t have to be a theist to hold this belief. You can still believe that you have a design that is unique to you that holds potential for greatness. For example, I like beauty. I’m not talking about beauty in terms of the beauty industry. I’m talking about beauty in a broader context; beauty as it pertains to nature, music, atmospheres, and even ourselves. Beauty has a healing element. It is a quality that can be pursued in life and cultivated daily. Fresh flowers on a table. A china teacup instead of a styrofoam cup. Bach for breakfast. There are ways to introduce beauty into your life that add richness and texture, and, over time, it becomes a salve that aids in healing. I was born like this. Clearly, the practicality of my father’s shoes was lost on me, but, looking back, I don’t think that’s what caused my suspicion. He never chose beauty. He never chose softness. He never called that forward or nurtured that in his wife or daughter. He chose hardness and violence, and that went against the grain of my developing identity. I knew that he was wrong, and his wrong attitudes about life were expressed in the choice of his shoes oddly enough.
You have gifts, too, and there are people you know or have known who have behaved counter to your gifts. There are people who have probably tried to steal those gifts from you or even prevent you from using them. They have treated you in such a way that may have caused you to believe that you have nothing to offer to the world. They have left you feeling robbed, violated, and defiled. That is simply untrue. You still have something to offer. You are still worthwhile, and your instincts to step into your identity should be honored. That’s where we start our journeys.
I find it so funny that after all this time I’ve learned that my resiliency originated in the opinions of my 4 year-old self. She wasn’t wrong. So, I want to encourage you to go back and reacquaint yourself with who you were when you were young. What did you want? What were you like? What were your dreams? What did you feel very strongly about? Chances are, you were right about a lot more than you realize. Begin to honor who you are now by honoring who you were. This is a vital part of healing.