He sat across from me in a leather chair. His legal pad balanced on his crossed knee. As I spoke, he took notes. His pencil making that light scratching noise as it scraped across the page.
I’d never been to a therapist before, but I knew I needed one. So there I sat, running down the list of my thirty some years. My father’s death, my teenage pregnancy, my troubled marriage.
When I finally stopped, Tom lifted his pencil, looked at me and said,
“Wow Ellen, that’s a lot. And it’s a good thing you’re here. You’re at that age when the tools you used to survive your childhood no longer work. Now you have a choice. You can cut off the pain, or you can choose to feel it. But I must warn you, if you cut out the bad, you’ll also cut out the good. You can’t cut at one end without cutting at the other. If you don’t feel the bad, you won’t feel the good either.”
Without taking his eyes off me, he paused and let his words settle in.
I sat silently for several seconds pondering my decision.
All my life, I’d been in pursuit of joy. I relished the simplest pleasures – My children performing in a school play. Overhearing our young daughter read her little brother a book, using the same inflections as me. Seeing my children curled up on either side of their father, watching TV. The hours of laughter at the dinner table.
And what about all those unexpected moments? The ones that catch you off guard, that years later, still send warmth through you.
A chill came over me at the thought of missing those tender moments.
“Well then,” I responded. “I’ll just have to feel the bad because I want it all.”
Now, twenty some years later, I better understand my therapists wisdom. I see how easy it is to build walls around our hearts to shield us from the pain of sometimes our own bad decisions. And how that padding can become a large barrier between us and those we love.
I’m not sure I’ll ever understand the purpose of pain. But I know I must feel it. Not just mine but yours as well. I know intrinsically, it’s the narrow path to a rich life. One that’s lived in spite of its circumstances.
So as we begin this holy season, I encourage you to pick up someone else’s burden. Maybe you need to make a donation, or participate in an act of service. Maybe you need to just spend time with a friend. Whatever it is, I challenge you to hold it, and feel it.
Then when you kneel at the manger, share it with Him. He’ll be glad to help you carry it.