Lovely little deaths
Why do you stay in prison
when the door is so wide open?
Autumn has always been my favorite season. I live in New England, and autumn in New England is spectacular. The crisp blue days, the smell of woodsmoke at night, and the brilliantly colored foliage that draws people from all over the country to drive 25 mph in a 55 mph zone. #JesusFixIt
I love the fall. I am energized by it. I tend to start new projects, set new goals. It’s a very productive time for me, creatively- and yet, there’s a fairly deep vein of melancholy for me at this time of year. Wistfulness has always been a part of my make-up, even though I’m generally a positive person. I always wondered why that was. Why, during a season that delights me so much, do I experience waves of something akin to grief?
I recently read something in a book about different seasons serving different purposes in our lives. It posited that the fall is a good time to take stock of where you are at, what you need to work on, what you have, and what you no longer need. An inventory, if you will. Now that may seem like a task more suited to spring, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I also read an article about the Eastern perspective on seasons which said that in Chinese philosophy the emotions associated with autumn are courage and sadness.
That feels right to me.
All seasons are transitions when you think about it. If winter is a season of dormancy and gestation, and springtime is a season of newness and birth, then really, autumn, at its heart, is a season about dying.
All those beautiful leaves that the out of town peepers come to ogle? Thousands upon thousands of lovely, necessary little deaths.
When I was at Wild Goose this summer, I had the privilege of hearing Reverend Otis Moss III preach. He was talking about the constant hand-wringing over the belief that the American church is dying. His take on it?
“Then LET. IT. DIE. Some things need to die.”
He went on to talk about how things need to die in order for something else to be birthed- something new, something better. Something closer to who we are intended to be.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot in terms of trauma and what we do with it. I think in order to truly heal we must be willing to let some things die.
Human beings are story-making creatures. As long as humans have existed, so has story. Since the beginning of time, we’ve sought to make sense of the world by taking the sometimes mystifying facts at hand and building story around them. The volcano erupted? The gods are angry. A bountiful harvest? Our sacrifices pleased the gods. An independent woman? Must be a witch.
When we endure trauma as children, we have neither the life experience nor the wisdom to put it into any kind of healthy context. We don’t know enough about the world or human nature or the way people and institutions are supposed to behave to frame our abuse appropriately. And frequently, our abusers are people we trust, people who we believe to be infallible or all-powerful. That emotional and spiritual dissonance lends itself perfectly to story-building.
Children take a complicated situation and make a simple story out of it. We take the facts of our abuse, use them as scaffolding and then we build walls of story around them. We build a house out of that story and we live in it. We live as though it is true, and so, in many cases, it becomes so.
If you speak the truth about your abuse and are called a liar by the adults at the center of your universe, then you believe them. You are a liar. And what do liars do? They lie. So you lie. And then? Well, then you’re a liar.
And even though the stories we build are overwhelmingly harmful, we can be reluctant to let them go.
I think we sometimes cling to long-held beliefs about our trauma and what it means because to challenge the validity of those beliefs is to set our houses on fire. It’s a death. And even if the story you’ve been living out of is dark and toxic and harmful? It’s still home.
In his brilliant book, Finding God in the Ruins, Matt Bays reminds us that redemption is, by definition, an exchange. In order to write a new ending for your story, you may need the willingness to offer up long-held assumptions, beliefs, and identities at the altar of healing. Maybe what you exchange in return for freedom from your trauma is the house of story you’ve lived in since you were abused.
What are you waiting for? Do you think tomorrow is guaranteed? How much time have you sacrificed in order to guard the house of pain you live in? Has it maybe been long enough? Look around at your story-house. Has it become a prison? If it has, and the walls are the story you told yourself about what your abuse meant about you, your family, the world, God… here’s the good news: Those walls may be tall and seemingly impenetrable, but the door is WIDE OPEN. You need only decide to walk out.
If your old story needs to die for you to heal, then let it die.
Maybe this is the season for that. Drag it out into the sunlight and let it die, like the scarlet and gold drifts against the fence outside my window. Let the story in which you’ve been serving time die a lovely little death. It’s necessary.
Toss a match and let it burn, like so many brilliantly colored leaves. Stand in the waning autumn light and breathe in the smoke. Hold courage in one hand and sadness in the other. Only then can you write a new ending. You really can, you know. You can strip away all that story, go back to the bones, the facts, and build yourself a new home.
Maybe it’s time to write a new story.
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