Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Sally: Part 2
As Sally finishes her timeline, we come to a question that will apply to all of us, regardless of the various levels of opinions or thoughtful input we might have about her truths and lies. It is one we've all considered at some level at a point in our lives:
When did "It" become Sally's fault and how is she responsible for her own suffering?
We have all sat with a Sally at any given point in our lives. Sally may be a parent, a spouse, a friend, a church member. We have listened within a moment of time hearing Sally's problems and we have either thought or said,"It is your fault. You need to get over it. You are causing the problems in your life."
No reasonable person would look at seven-year-old Sally and tell her that her poor choices caused her suffering. But she could've called 911. She could've confided in a teacher. If she would have done those things, then perhaps she wouldn't have had to raise her siblings.
Then what? Foster care? Parental retaliation? It would seem that in the timelines of many there are the "what-ifs" that cause the most frustration either because we'll never know what might have happened or we acknowledge that in choosing another path, suffering was inevitable either way.
Let's go back to the original question--was Sally responsible for the care of her younger siblings? Factually, yes she was. She became the caretaker. Intrinsically, was she responsible? No one would ever put the responsibility of other children primarily upon their siblings, but it was a difficult choice made by a fearful seven-year-old. As we are forced to consider her timeline we recognize that she was betrayed by her parents, that she must have lived in constant anxiety of someone finding out what was going on at home, and as the caretaker of her siblings often neglected her own needs. She would have also had to rely on her parents in some measure as she could not pay bills, buy food, or operate the washing machine, stove, or any other number of appliances. Instead they often went to school hungry and dirty, welcoming ridicule and more suffering.
What lie did Sally internalize at a young age? I am responsible for my siblings. I can't buy food. I can't wash clothes. It is my fault they are hungry and dirty and when they are bullied, that is my fault too.
As Sally details her timeline, she recalls other painful moments that stem from the years of neglect. The helplessness that arrives when you cannot stop an adult from molesting you or your siblings. The anger and outrage in the aftermath when it is your own mother who welcomed in the abuser and denies the abuse occurred. The guilt and disgust felt when you are faced with betraying a parent's secrets or revealing them only to endure the terrifying unknown.
When lies produce negative emotions, these emotions solicit more negative emotions that help feed the lie. They also produce unhealthy oaths that we use to reinforce the lie's destructive path.
Sally's negative emotions caused by years of neglect and abuse were fear, helplessness, anger, depression and outrage. As a result, the oath she made to help protect herself became close to her as her only ammunition in a world of chaos and disorder:
I will never allow anyone to hurt my siblings like that again.
This oath gave Sally a feeling of empowerment. She was older now. She received praise from her teachers concerning her academics. She was smart--too smart to allow drugs and alcohol to overtake her life and hurt the ones she was supposed to love. She could work and take advanced classes--just like she could mother young children and still go to school and get good grades. She would show everyone. She would prove that she was capable.
And Sally did achieve great things. She never did drugs. She never got pregnant. She earned her scholarships. She married a man who did not abuse or abandon her. These are tremendous accomplishments given Sally's history.
So why is Sally almost 30 years old and still terribly depressed and unfulfilled?
Sally at 30 shares her frustration, anger, and sadness. It falls on deaf ears. Why is an adult woman still caring for her adult siblings? We would readily give love and compassion to the seven-year-old who lived in constant fear and neglect. When Sally the adult comes to us with her brokenness, it is time to tell her she needs to leave the past behind and move on.
Sally believed the lie and made the oath. Therefore when her siblings continue to make mistakes and suffer, she relives the failure--and all the emotions that accompany them. If Sally does not accept her brother at 3 AM, drunk and on a methadone binge, he might get arrested. He might crash his car. He might find more drugs and overdose.
And it would be all her fault. She knows that it disrupts her family, which causes more guilt. In her anger as a child and young adult she vowed she would never let them feel that pain again. Now she is hurting the people who love and need her the most--the ones who need her in a healthy, appropriate context. She is failing everyone, including herself. And she is isolated because no one really understands. They reinforce what she already knows--it's all her fault. No matter what she does, she can't win. She is tired of the failure. She is ready to finally give up as depression, uncertainty, and hopelessness take hold.
This is why as we write our own timelines, we will be asking God to show us through each word, each event, each struggle and moment of pain, what lies we believed, what oaths we may have pledged, and rely on Him to mend our brokenness. It is God who has seen each moment. It is God alone who can address the most painful wounds we carry for ourselves or on behalf of others.
This is also why as we journey with one another through healing and restoration, we will never have to address how Sally or anyone else is to blame. Each will be accountable for their own journey. Each will focus on their own pain and suffering, their own shortcomings, and their own sin. As we seek God to deliver us from the issues we have failed to address, we will allow Him to direct and guide us through our own faults, and rely on Him to show us where forgiveness, repentance, confession, and truth meet practicality. We will trust God to address our wounds in love and compassion.
Our role in the healing and restoration of others is not to establish blame and punishment--it is to pray, to encourage, and to ask God how our own attitudes are blocking our opportunities to help other broken people find wholeness.
If Sally renounces the lies in her past to embrace the truth, what do you think she would say to herself as a 7-year-old? As a 17-year-old? What compassionate, encouraging words would she have for herself now?
What do you think is more difficult for Sally--to realize the lies she's believed about her mother or the truths? What are the lies and what are the truths? What are the judgments?
What are some of the lies we believe about forgiving others? What are the emotions we experience as we consider forgiving the people who have caused us the most pain or who have caused pain in the lives of loved ones?