I’d been using stories less than a year, back in 2012, and flew to Fresno to participate in a workshop there. I floundered.
I found myself not recalling the simplest and plainest details in stories. The issue, however, was not so much the actual facts I’d lost but the feelings of shame that engulfed my heart:
“What was I doing? Why did I really believe I could do this?”
The accompanying thoughts ran a familiar course:
“You’ll not get this. This will never be for you. This is a dead end. You’re a failure.”
I took a break and walked outside and texted a friend at church asking for prayer. She texted right back saying:
“Touch a rock. Sit in the sun. Feel the earth. Breathe.”
I sat down on a hot rock in the warm California sun and leaned against it. I ran my hand over its surface. I thought about what the texture of the rock felt like. My fingers warmed. The rough, hot surface soaked in. And as I did this simple thing, focused on something tangible like that rock, the feeling of shame dissipated.
It’s a simple fact that our brains cannot literally think of more than one thing at a time, and when stuck in our heads, spinning with thoughts and feelings, it helps if we can pull our brains back into our bodies.
Whenever I’ve helped others do this with any simple exercise of pulling the head out of the clouds of spinning thoughts back into being aware of the body, it has brought them peace. Often to their surprise, the anxious thoughts settle. The racing hearts calm. The feelings dissipate.
One time on the phone I instructed the woman I spoke with to stand barefoot on the cool tile floor in her home, and describe what it felt like to me. As she did so she suddenly stopped talking and said, “My heart has calmed down.”
At a workshop another year, a woman was panicking about the story she was about to present. I asked her to step outside, to touch the side of the building, breathe and then describe it to me. As she did so, again, her anxiety lessened.
Back in 2012, my friend’s text reminded me to do what I knew– ever need reminders? And it worked. My heart settled. And I could breathe deeply and focus on being present to the experience at hand.
Fast forward to 2017.
I was preaching at the week-long Redwood Christian Ashram in California. I used storytelling to root the listeners in a scriptural story and allow the Holy Spirit to speak and then shared some out of it myself.
The first night I vulnerably shared a more thorough story of my abuse than I’d ever before spoken publicly. It was a great night but I got slammed by shame as I finished.
Instead of realizing that this probably was the best evidence that I’d done exactly what God wanted, I at first believed the lies whispered into my heart. I walked to my room and battled through the night. I texted friends requesting prayer.
One friend texted back:
“The old man is dead. You are a new creation, a new prototype. Never been created before. Lazarus was a new creation. Jesus told them to take off the grave clothes and set him free. Grave clothes stink. But they are not who you are. Look from Heavens’ perspective and our Father’s eyes and His heart. You are new DNA. Praise The Lord.”
This was true and a great reminder, although difficult at that moment to receive.
I breathed into this, prayed long into the night, journaled, and eventually slept.
The next day at breakfast I sat next to a young man who began to share, to my surprise, how he’d been impacted by my story. He’d also experienced childhood sexual abuse. I was able to share with him how shame had hit after I’d shared. He heard this empathetically, my vulnerability met his own and all those voices of shame, diminished in the light of a new day, dissolved like morning fog.
Then, later, when an opportunity came to rock climb as a free time activity, I took it. I enjoyed meeting the college students overseeing the climbing wall. They were doing a summer internship at the camp. Our random conversation turned to Jesus and who He was. I was able to pray with one of the girls and see Jesus touch her with His love. Interesting how my own brokenness begot healing in another.
They harnessed me and I began my first climbing-wall experience. The sun had beat down on the wall during the first part of the day. It was warm out. Climbing took all my concentration. I felt nervous. My heart rate was way elevated with my first tentative steps up the rock wall. Would the rope that felt loose as I climbed really catch me if I fell? Up twelve feet or so, I lost my footing, and the rope caught me. Ah!
Suddenly what at first had felt scary became a great game. Truly I couldn’t get hurt. I climbed again, reaching, stretching muscles, making it past where I’d previously fallen I reached the very top of the wall. It was exhilarating.
Looking back I realize how incredibly cathartic this activity was on the day after all those negative emotions. Touching, climbing that hot rock wall, the focus, the physical activity, the stretch of muscle and mind, totally freed my heart.
Now, although I do know this, I do not always remember to do it. I think that is the most difficult thing about what we know. It is easier to assist someone else than it is to remember to apply it to myself.
I went camping with one of our daughters and her family in May. It was awesome. Among my favorite moments was watching our then five-year-old granddaughter rock climbing up this 60′ wall with rope and harness. I was staggered by her courage and saw that she hit the moment of panic as she reached the last obstacle on her way down. Here she had successfully climbed to 60′ and at around 10′ she hit a wall, burst into tears, while clinging to the rock, and cried: “I can’t!!!”
She was stuck in her head. She had plenty of ability. But whatever thoughts preceded the words had stymied her.
Her dad was beautiful.
“Girl, you got this,” he said. “You’ve actually achieved the entire wall — all except this last little bit. Breathe a few deep breaths there, and take it one step at a time.”
She did so and made it without a hitch.
I watched and remembered the many moments of overwhelm I’ve encountered and wondered if they also would have brought such a response from Jesus – “Brian – you’ve got this! You’ve nearly made it. Take a breath. And now continue just one step at a time…”