I remember when I was little. We lived out in the country, and we didn’t have any neighbors close by. We loved the freedom to run wild, leave our car doors unlocked, and run outside in our pajamas. These were the upsides of country living!
The downside was the dark.
We had a woodshed that was outside our house. I’d say it was about 30 kid-sized steps from our front door to that shed. The folks kept our big garbage can out there, right beside it. During the day, we would race past the woodshed into the woods without giving it a second thought. But it was a different story at night.
I so clearly remember my Mom asking me to take a bag out to the woodshed one night. I grab the garbage and open the front door, planning to get back before the commercial break is over. I swing the door shut behind me, in such a hurry I decide not to grab my shoes. As I start out and reach the end if the porch lights, I notice that feeling… First my tummy starts to tingle in a not entirely unpleasant way. At the same time, my mind starts having staticky thoughts that aren’t exactly words but more like subtle warning bells. I tense my shoulders. I tip-toe on my toes, feeling the sharp gravel poke the pads of my feet. I move in a slow but steady pace towards the wood shed. I am brave and strong, but it sure is taking a long time to make it to the garbage can. I keep my eyes straight ahead, strenuously forcing my mind not to imagine the blackness to the right or left.
When I finally arrive at the can, I am going at a fairly crisp tip-toe pace. I open the lid, fling the garbage in, and then I lose the battle… I turn and race to the front door again, so fast I don’t notice the gravel pricking my feet, the darkness, or anything at all. I am laser focused on that front door!
And I arrive! Safe and sound. Breathing hard. I quickly look around to make sure no one noticed my panicked sprint. Once I assure myself I am safe from eyes, I laugh a little, quietly. I open the door, and step back into the wood stove warmth, the bright lights. I sit down on the couch by my brother as the show begins again, the tension forgotten. That is, until Mom asks me to take garbage out again a few nights later!
Why do I share this story? Well, you see, the trips to the garbage can happened when I was little. If memory serves me well, I traveled to the garbage can and back, in the dark, several times. And I am pretty sure the last time it happened I was a bit too old to react that way, but I still did!
Since then, a lot has changed. My parents have built a shop where the woodshed once was. I believe they still keep their big garbage can out there, but I haven’t had to take a trip to it for many, many years. And I have grown up. I’ve worked 7 jobs. I’ve lived in 14 houses. I got married. I had 3 beautiful boys. I have made many great friends, have traveled a lot, and am now 45 years old. A lot has changed.
But a part of that garbage can story still happens to me. Quite often if I’m honest. It happens when I overreact to someone’s words. When I feel insecure. When I’m overcome with a wash of shame. When I feel the tension, my first response is to ignore it. To change the subject, start something new, or totally redefine it. But I am learning instead to pause. When I sense the tension, I try to just stop for a second. In that pause, I ask myself to make the trip into the dark, to lean into the tension. At first I resist, but when I finally decide to go… my tummy starts to tingle in a not entirely unpleasant way. At the same time, my mind starts having staticky thoughts that aren’t exactly words but more like subtle warning bells. I tense up my shoulders, and my mind tip-toes towards what lies behind the shame, the insecurity, the pain, the memory.
See, to me, the dark trip at night out to the garbage created tension. And a similar tension occurs when I decide to lean into my dark side.
Human beings are awesome. God created us, as tiny humans, to be able to cope with so much that life throws our way. Before we understand things, before we can handle things, He is with us and He knows what we need to survive as children. We decide things, we hide things, we build truths, and we splinter off hurts. We are able to do what we need to do as a young child to be in the world we find ourselves. We are amazing.
And as we grow up, we get to grow up! We get to make choices. We can choose to continue in the same patterns we created as a little child. These patterns make us feel safe, and tempt us to continue doing the same things that made sense in our childhood world.
Or we can choose to accept an invitation. An invitation to lean into the tension.
There’s an invitation to explore. To explore what is behind, underneath, and in the middle of our dark side. We are invited to lean into the tension. To lean into the places that make our hearts race, make our shoulders tense. The places where we reject before we are rejected. The places where we opt out before we are not enough. To explore the parts of us we hide behind the mask that we think everyone loves. To feel the emotions that we haven’t felt for so long because it was easier to be numb. These are our tension.
And the tension is there, whether we opt in for the adventure to find out what’s beneath it or not. The tension is there. It leaks out at our family, at our friends, at ourselves. It sabotages opportunities and pushes away love. It keeps us finding ourselves in the same place, even though we moved and we changed jobs and swore we wouldn’t be here again.
The invitation is there, to lean into the tension.
For me, I realize the invitation is there more and more often. At first I resisted, with all my strength. I raced and ran and found every distraction and fun thing and opportunity to stay ahead, to stay away, to avoid the tension. And I didn’t even really realize that was what I was doing. But one day I ran out of places to run. I crashed and burned. And I cried. I cried rivers and more rivers and I didn’t know if I would ever stop. It was scary. But boy was it good!
And a beautiful friend of mine met me in my flood of tears. She told me about the tension. And shared how she had learned to use it as a tool. To observe herself, and just to notice. Not to judge or figure out or explain or fix. Just to watch. And as she watched, she became more and more aware of when the tension was there and when it wasn’t.
My wise friend also told me about her relationship with Jesus. You see, He helped her with the tension. He showed her that He was there from the start, that He has never left her, that He knows the true her beneath the walls, the lies, and the hurts and pain. That He is so proud of her. And He loves her. So much. And He would walk with her into the tension. Not every time and with no pressure. But when she was ready. When she noticed an area where she reacted or withdrew, or where she felt insecure or voiceless. She would notice the tension and when she was ready to accept the invitation, He would help her walk into the tension. She would see what had happened, and see why she had created the belief or lie. Most of all she would see He was always there, even at that time, and He never left her and always loved her. And she would be filled with love for herself, too, as she understood why she created that wall or believed that lie or avoided that pain. She often would be freed of unforgiveness or would set down a heavy load of offense. And she would find truth. Truth that would replace the tension and allow her to be her and to be true and to be loved and to be alive.
Often times, she and Jesus together would look at the tension and spend time unraveling the dark. Other times, she would ask a friend or make time with a counselor to help her do so. But He was always so faithful, always met her there, always healed and loved and filled the gaps with truth. And she began to anticipate the invitation to lean. She started to look at the moments when she felt the tension as the beginning of another area for freedom! To realize that God is that good! He created us to survive and to cope and to make it, but He doesn’t leave us there. He redeems and He brings new life and He does the impossible in us.
And I am forever grateful for her testimony and love. Thankful she shared with me this tool – to lean into the tension. And each time I accept, and I pause instead of run away, and I tip-toe step by step into the tension with Jesus by my side, I get freer and my life gets fuller. In the process, I am also learning to have grace for myself and treat myself with kindness. I am often amazed by how I survived, how I coped, how I made it. At the same time, I am looking forward to trading in the self-protection I relied on as it is no longer needed. Some days, I even get glimpses in myself of the ability to actually welcome the tension. That the insecurity, the shame, and the triggers will just make me smile because I will know that freedom lies behind them! I am not there yet. But I’m learning to lean into the tension.
And maybe this blog entry is for you. Maybe as you read this, you sense an invitation. Maybe your tummy has started to tingle in a not entirely unpleasant way. If you hear the invitation to lean into the tension, I am so excited that Jesus will meet you there. I bless you to see yourself with a lens of kindness and love, as you tip-toe towards the uncomfortable, as you lean into the tension.
“Never doubt God’s mighty power to work in you and accomplish all this. He will achieve infinitely more than your greatest request, your most unbelievable dream, and exceed your wildest imagination! He will outdo them all, for His miraculous power constantly energizes you.”
“Lord, you know everything there is to know about me. You perceive every movement of my heart and soul, and You understand my every thought before it even enters my mind.”
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”
2 Corinthians 3:17
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.”