**Warning: Though I touch on a very heavy topic, I end on a high note.** Written in November 2013.
Some time ago, I talked about my inner tape, the one my dad installed, the one that tells me of my worth or rather my worthlessness. Today I was reminded, in a not so subtle way, of how I’ve been trying to overcome it. In the middle of a rather heavy conversation with a friend, a painful admission rose to the surface and came gushing out in tears and terror. You see, I want to collect stuff, stuff that I want and think I need to stop “the tape.”
Somewhere along the line, I got the idea that by getting “stuff,” I wouldn’t be worthless. I subscribed, unintentionally, to a seemingly common perspective of what I need to be happy. Some people choose a career and a house; a home filled with a car and wife and children, surrounded by a white picket fence. If I get that, if I get those things, I won’t be what my dad (who died when I was thirteen) always told me I was, a failure.
While this may or may not be my dad’s image of success, it’s one that I’ve unknowingly adopted as my own (incidentally, I have no trouble associating success to others, regardless of what they do for a living or whether or not they’re married). This idea of success is one that I strive to have and suffer for not having; not because you or my mom or anyone else told me I should suffer, but because my inner tape did and still does. However, when I play this tape, this inner mantra, to others, they are able to reflect back to me the insanity of my own thinking; because, let me be honest, I don’t think God’s idea for me or my life to have value revolves around me getting stuff. Instead, what I’ve been able to make out, based on enormous and repeating experiences, is that God wants me to be of service. Full stop. End of sentence. Top priority. Notice, nowhere does “house”, “wife”, “kids” or “career” fit into that sentence. Service does. I’m not saying I can’t be of service to a wife and children. Of course I can be. I’m simply saying I can still be of service without them; because, what was reaffirmed for me today was that I am.
Here’s the story from earlier this evening…
She sat across the table from me over dinner. She was mostly quiet save a few words in answering my questions. She came to me for help with overcoming alcohol. I don’t know much about many things; but for over 12 years, I’ve been able to stay sober, when sober is most definitely NOT my normal, natural state. So, I happen to know something about staying away from alcohol, when alcohol was the very thing I couldn’t bear to stay away from. Alcohol was what made an otherwise intolerable life worth living. If you couldn’t already guess, alcohol stopped working for me. She told me God stopped working for her…at the age of seven.
“What happened when you were seven that changed that?” I asked.
“Nothing” she said abruptly, ” I just stopped believing.”
“Why?” I pushed.
She went silent, dead silent. It was one of those pregnant, painful silences; where you know you’re at the edge of something, usually, the edge of something agonizing.
“Without telling me what it is you don’t want to tell me, can you tell me why you don’t want to tell me?” I asked.
“Because I’m afraid” she said.
“That’s a great reason. I’m afraid to tell my secrets to people too; but I’ve learned that I get relief when I do. What are you afraid of? That I’ll judge you? That I’ll think less of you? That these other people walking around who don’t speak a word of English will think less of you when they’re not even thinking of you because they’re busy thinking about themselves?”
She laughed a bit. “No, I know you won’t judge me (Think about that. One of my most noticeable traits is judgment and yet at the right moments, that flaw of mine is hard to find. Luckily, this was one of those moments). I’m…I’m…just embarrassed” she said.
“What happened when you were seven that caused you to stop believing in God?” I repeated. After a long pause, she confessed: “I was raped.”
Let that sink in. She was seven years old and she was raped.
I’ll let you fill in the details with the most unspeakable incident you can imagine because that was certainly hers.
I don’t have words to approach that, nor do I have the experience. A few things came out of my mouth, I honestly don’t remember what, and I followed them up with something simple; I asked: “Would you like a hug?” “Yes” she replied. I got up from my chair, came to her, hugged her and held her. That’s when it started. I wasn’t prepared for it; and I hadn’t experienced it before. She wasn’t trembling. She was shaking, uncontrollably and violently. It was the kind of shaking that comes from the soul, from a wounded, frightened, sacred soul. And I was there to witness it and hold it in my arms and resonate with it and affirm it.
I think that’s the kind of stuff that God wants from me. He wants me to be of service to his people, my people, my fellow man. I am at my best when I am listening to other people at their worst.
In my own, far less dramatic, breakdown this evening, I let out my secret for why I wanted a car and a career…to overcome my inner tape so that I could be a “success”. While I made that painful admission, it occurred to me that God’s vision of success is noticeably different from my own; and maybe I was succeeding in living it today…
I live in China. I teach children how to think. I teach adults how to build better bonds with other people by improving their language skills. And I hug people who need it. In other words…I’m of service and maybe, though not in my dad’s eyes, in God’s eyes, I’m a success.
So, though my father helped to record my inner tape, it’s God who’s helping to erase it.