To find our way on the Unknown Path, we need to know the things that trip us up. We know them by naming them, however small and inconsequential, however large and daunting. Before Jesus cast the demon from the Gerasene demoniac, he demanded to know the demon's name. "Legion," came the reply, "because we are so many." So too, our own demons.
For years, I heard the Fifth Steps of alcoholics and other addicts working their way through the Twelve Step program. The Fourth Step is a moral inventory of one's life--resentments, fears, sex conduct, and harm to others. The Fifth Step is sharing this inventory with an impartial witness, speaking aloud one's deepest secrets. In that privileged role, as a witness, I heard horrific stories. Addicts have a lot to offload, especially about the harm they did to others, while in their addiction.
But the worst stories, the ones that stayed with me, haunting my dreams, were the resentments of what others had done to them. I heard about parents abandoning or rejecting their own children. I heard about sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse. I heard about traumatic losses that scarred for life. And in every case, I saw a nervous, fearful, adult rise up in the telling, emboldened by naming their secret wounds, ready to reclaim their life's path, from which they had strayed.
My own stories can't approach the ones I heard. But I have wounds of my own. I grew up the accommodating middle child of a family that was constantly on the move, across the country, back and forth, again and again. By the time I was eighteen I had lived in eleven different houses. I was the perpetual new kid, adept at drawing attention to myself so I would fit in, or else suffer the lonely and fearsome consequences of being invisible.
To remain unconscious of this wound, I would be forever that new kid, trying to get your attention. To be conscious of it means that, even if I can't stop myself acting on that impulse, I can choose what to do with your attention, once I get it. This turns a neurosis into a gift. I can draw your attention, like now, so that, together, we might attend to something else, something more fruitful, and deserving.
So, you? Your parents gave you too little attention, or smothered you with too much? You were bullied, perhaps abused? You were funny-looking, or weird, in the eyes of your classmates? You suffered a traumatic loss of a loved one? Name your wound, and claim your healing. But know this. That healing will become your life's work.
Next Week: What is Your Work?