Hello, My Name Is...Let's Stop Right Here!
Sometimes I’d like to wear this sign hanging from a lanyard around my neck. Instead of “Hello, my name is…” which welcomes you to start a conversation with me, this sign says stop right there. I know that sounds unwelcoming, but bear with me.
When you go into counseling for one thing, you end up working on a whole host of other issues because they are in the way of getting to your presenting problem. Before the first appointment, you have to fill out an intake form, much like giving medical history at the doctor’s office, except instead of ‘history of heart disease or high cholesterol?’ you are checking boxes about traumatic events, difficult relationships, various disorders, types of abuse, psychotic episodes, substance abuse, all of which affect your presenting problem and your healing process. I remember those questions being unnerving and yet having the thought - ‘Well, I’m here. I’m a mess. Might as well tell this guy the WHOLE of it.” So of course we worked on much more than the event of January 6, 2018. I initially went to counseling for trauma - which led to a myriad of other things. It’s all connected; complex trinitarian creatures that we are. Our bodies hold stories and our brains tend to store memories and emotions in file folders already labeled with similar events and feelings.
One of the first things my counselor noticed was how often I used the words ‘should’ and ‘ought.’ He caught this and stopped me, brining to my attention just how often I “should myself.” It wasn’t hard to realize how I had absorbed this from my past - growing up in a performance-based faith tradition in a small Southern town of the 1960’s and 70’s. During the months we met, the counselor helped me learn to listen to the voice in my head that often came out of my mouth “shoulding myself.”
As a child, one of the most frustrating things in the world to me was for someone to say, “You should have…” followed by what I should have said or done in a certain moment. Not only did it make me mad because it was too late to change what I’d said or done, but I also felt ashamed that I hadn’t thought of the smarter, more clever answer.
A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a well-meaning friend. I opened up to her about a situation I was processing. She immediately jumped to what I should do to get over it, sprinkling her words with Scripture. My friend, B. Kelley calls this ‘slapping a Bible verse on it.’ I looked into this person’s eyes; first, trying to hide my anger and second, praying for the Spirit’s help as I tried to figure out my next move.
Hence, my need for a NO TRESPASSING sign.
Good questions to lead me to my own answers (perhaps even the answer she was suggesting) would have been helpful. Instead, the conversation felt like a door closing. A question is hospitable; it invites the other person to say more. A “should” closes the door every time. Brene’ Brown says people have to earn the right to hear our stories. (Note to self: this was not the person with whom to share that particular story, a case of me needing to read my own sign and keep my mouth closed.) Emily P. Freeman describes those people who’ve earned the right to hear our stories as ‘co-listeners’, people close enough in our daily lives to listen with us to the Spirit’s leading and not trespass on our feelings but who have earned the right to offer us counsel.
In my current tradition, we use the word “debts” in the Lord’s prayer (Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors), but in the church I grew up in, and back when we prayed the Lord’s Prayer in school, I learned to say, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” I think I like the old word better. How many times have I rushed into a conversation with myself or someone else with words - negative self-talk or inhospitable ‘should-ing’, trespassing on a tender soul’s ground where that voice did not belong?
Caring for you own soul or that of another is sacred work. Parker J. Palmer describes the soul like a wild animal,
“The soul is like a wild animal—tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient and yet exceedingly shy. If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is to go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out. But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek.”
The sign in the picture was in the woods where the wild animals live. It was not put there to be inhospitable at all; rather to protect the wildlife there. Good soul care for ourselves and others means posting a few of these signs, sometimes over our own lips, sometimes a kind but firm boundary with with another. And when we don’t, praying this line, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.“