I am no stranger to the counselor’s office.
For more than twenty years, counselors have helped me move through painful, stuck seasons in my life so that I can move towards wholeness. I can tend towards drama, I can be overly introspective, and I feel things all the way down to the ground, so I typically need help unraveling things. Several years ago, I was in a season where an important friendship was severely strained and broken, and I wasn’t sure what to do. So I found myself talking to my counselor.
“At the bottom of it all,” I said to him, “is the fear that I was the one who really messed it all up. That it’s really all my fault.”
He paused and looked right at me, and said the words that would eventually work deep down inside of me to set me free.
“Steve,” he said. “I’m positive you messed it all up.”
The force with which he said the word positive was impressive. I think he even spit a little bit. He was animated and certain of this little, annoying word.
This is not what counselors are supposed to say. They’re supposed to ask probing, open ended follow up questions that make you squirm in your chair until you come to an aha moment. “Why do you think you messed it all up? In what specific ways do you think you messed it all up? When else have you felt like you’ve messed it all up? In what ways did your mother tell you that you messed everything all up?”
This counselor was not like that.
After he let the reality of what he said sink in, he went on to say: “Now, walk all the way to the end of that plank. Then, jump off into the abyss of the possibility that you messed it all up. Wait until you hit bottom.” Then he smiled and said, “Now what?”
I realized in that moment how much time and energy I had spent worrying that I had messed it all up, and trying to deflect blame. This is exhausting; it’s a horrible use of time and energy. What if, my counselor was suggesting, we were absolutely certain we were going to mess things up, even really important things? And what if we could jump into the abyss of that reality and find that there was a much more spacious and firm place to stand at the bottom?
There is a paradoxical reality, which insists you must embrace your own brokenness if you are going to move towards wholeness. Only those who understand that their cheese is sliding off their cracker (thanks, Brennan Manning) will understand that embracing your own imperfection is the threshold through which you must walk if you want to end up in the room of wholeness.
This is still really hard for me. I’d still rather get it right, be the one who is right, and not mess it all up. But as time marches on, I am getting better at walking all the way to the end of the plank and jumping off in to the abyss of the possibility that I don’t have to get everything right, and I think I’m maybe becoming a little easier to live with.
So let me be your counselor, at least for a minute. I’m positive you messed it all up. Now, walk all the way to the end of that plank, and jump off into the abyss.
And be free.