Living Into A New Narrative
I lived into two narratives growing up.
One of the earliest things I remember being said to me about myself by my parents, aunts and uncles was, “Leah, you’re not scared of the devil, himself.” They smiled at me and chuckled as if I were an anomaly. My older sister was extremely shy and also afraid of the dark. (She has since conquered both with a vengeance!) For a few years, I slept with her, though we each had our own rooms, because she was afraid of the dark. I often jumped into conversation with adults for both of us because, like my father from my birth, because I didn’t meet a stranger.
Once you are defined by the authority figures in your life as “not afraid of the devil himself’ you act like you are not afraid, even when you are.
The other story I was told by my parents was, “We know you can handle things.” This usually referred to whatever girl-drama might be going on in a home of two teenaged daughters. I was expected to ‘handle it’ and so I did.
Neither of those narratives are bad as far as they go. Human beings usually rise to the level of expectation set for them, but they will also do what they can get away with doing. I saw this repeatedly in my teaching career and in my parenting. To be told I unafraid and capable served me well in some ways. I became a confident and responsible person.
But like any narrative, if it’s the only one you consider or allow for decades on end, it can become constrictive. Sometimes things run up behind you that you should be afraid of and the fear left in the wake is not something you can “just handle.”
Somewhere in those narratives must be room for the reality of what you are experiencing and whatever transformation is taking place. Transformation is messy, hard, and tearful at times. My default for fifty plus years has been ‘mind over matter.’ Just handle it! And yet, not only is that not working for me now, but it seems to deny the redemptive purpose behind the trouble.
Did Jesus allow this recent incident in my life so I can ‘just handle it’? Or might he want to teach me how to handle it, or handle it for me, maybe even through the hands and feet of others? To see him that way might require I be needy for a while? or wrestle with fear? or acknowledge anger?
I wouldn’t see my husband’s patience in taking me to the grocery store if I ‘just handled it”. I wouldn’t see my friend’s generosity in picking me up if I ‘just drove myself”. There is so much beauty to behold, so much 'sideways grace,' Jesus showing up through his and my friends, if I let myself live outside my old story for awhile, if I let myself been seen, weak and afraid.
One of my counselor friends had the wisdom to tell me that because prior to this experience I had not been an anxious person, this current experience of living with anxiety might feel like a loss of identity to me. He was right. Boy, was he right!
When you are in the middle of something hard, it feels like it’s permanent. I can’t remember right now what my four-year-old ‘not being scared of the devil, himself’ felt like. I also find there are some things I can’t ‘just handle.” My come-apart moments have increased exponentially in the last few weeks. Ask my husband what happened when I tripped over his boots in the middle of the night. If all I have as an identity are my old narratives, then absolutely I’m in crisis.
But they are not. I’m no longer defined by authority figures telling me who I am and thus how to act. While they are strong stories which held power for me and over me a long time, they are not the total of who I am. I may never return to my old self; in fact, I hope I don't. My prayer, having had this experience, is that I'm being transformed through it. My hope is knowing that though evil is real and present, Love is more real, more powerful and more present. And perfect love cast out all fear.
I’d written most of this post over a week ago, unsure how to finish it. Then yesterday, my dear aunt sent me this text:
2 Corinthians 12: 9 "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."
My new narrative may go something like this, “Leah, you’re not scared of the devil, himself, because you are escorted at all times by the One who is perfect love, the one who gives his angels charge over you to keep you in all his ways.” It’s not me who has to muster up swagger and walk into the dark room, it’s Him. And He has already made a footstool of his enemies.