By Stephen Arterburn.
Too many people live needlessly in defeat, immobilized by their own mistakes or the mistakes of others. They repeatedly walk into emotional walls that block the work God wants to do in them. It doesn’t have to be this way! No matter how broken or hurt, every person can discover the way to helping, hope, and a new way of living.
Phantom walls that stop us
Sometimes when I want to just put my mind in neutral and be entertained, I will flip the TV remote to America’s Funniest Home Videos. One of the funniest and most telling video clips involves a house cat at the back door of a home. The door is a common type—an aluminum frame designed to encase a single, solid panel of glass. In the clip the cat is at the door meowing to get out. What the cat does not realize is that there is no glass in the door frame. It had apparently been broken out. The man of the house comes and tries to urge the cat on through the empty space, but the cat will not go. The man even steps through the open frame to show the cat it can be done, but the cat still refuses to budge. It is not until the man opens the door and allows the cat to scurry around the frame that it goes out to freedom.
Much of the time the walls that hold us back are no more real than the absent glass in that doorframe. I don’t mean that they are not really barriers; I mean they are often constructions built in our own minds from incomplete or misunderstood pieces of reality and combined half-truths woven together in such a way that builds a false perception of the truth. In that sense, what often stops us are barriers that are not really there. They are fabricated entirely, or at least mostly, in our own minds.
We are all guilty of this. We take fragments of reality and a few half-truths and build concepts that are not exactly accurate. Because of these lies that circulate in our heads, we build barriers of anger and resentment about things others have done, or guilt about things that were not our fault. We may view some of our strengths as weaknesses and define ourselves inaccurately, exaggerating all that is wrong and crowding out all that is good and strong and capable.
Maybe you have built a phantom wall by making someone else responsible for something that is clearly your own doing. You may be married to a fairly normal person with fairly normal problems, but you manage to blame your spouse for all your difficulties. You play the role of victim, blaming others for all that’s wrong in your life, and it becomes a wall in your mind that holds you back just as effectively as if it were real. But it is not real. Those you frame to take the rap for your stuff may actually be guilty of many things, but they are not responsible for all the things that have gone wrong in your life. They are especially not responsible for the wall you have built in your mind in response to their actions.
The importance of new perspective
The new perspective we need in getting past our walls is more than just seeing the upside of the dark and traumatic experiences in life. It is not a matter of merely seeing the glass as half full. It is looking at life from a broader perspective than just one painful event. It is looking deeper into all the facts surrounding the past rather than personalizing the hurt. We often carry destructive thoughts around with us that may not exactly fit the real facts. We know the story of what happened, but it may not be a completely accurate story. In our pain, resentment, or anger, we may have assumed things that were not true.
Adoption can be an example of inaccurate perception. It often leads to feelings of rejection. Adopted children can assume there must be something wrong with them, or their birth mother would not have given them up. Yes, giving up a child for adoption does involve some form of rejection, but it is rarely as evil or as personal as many adopted kids think. If you were given up for adoption, your mother did not reject you, the person you are now. And her motives for giving you up were likely related to wanting something better for your life than she thought she could give. Almost all who give up their children do so with a tremendous amount of reluctance and grief.
Adopted children need not let their birth mothers’ choices become walls. They can come to see that they were not personally rejected. Their parents rejected only the concept of a child and all that a child demands and needs. It was not personal. It could not have been personal because she had no way of knowing you as the person you are now. It was a decision made by a parent struggling to survive, feeling inadequate to raise a child, and wanting the best for her child. First, your mother made a decision for you to live. She did not abort you. She chose life for you. Then she chose a better life for you than she could provide. Seeing this truth can bring down the wall of rejection.
Jesus was intent on getting people to see the truth. That is why he so often challenged the way they looked at life and each other. He would sometimes say, “You have heard it said . . .” and then quote some established belief. Then he would counter that common wisdom with, “But I say . . .” and proceed to astound listeners with an amazing new perspective on the old way of thinking.
Jesus’ philosophy could be summarized this way: Life is not all about you, it is not all about your things, and it is not even all about this world. It is not all about feeling good or getting what you want. It is not about what you think you need right now. It is about another world beyond Earth and an inner world of the heart without conflict or pretense. Jesus made a difference two thousand years ago because he challenged people to see things from a true perspective. The old way created barriers because it was not based on reality. Living with and in the truth sets us free. It is another way of saying that understanding reality removes walls.
Getting past a wall could mean learning more about the history of the person who rejected or abused you and discovering the origins of the rejection or abuse. At a workshop I conducted in
Southern California, I worked with a young man whose life was blocked by a wall of anger at his mother. When he was an infant, his mother left him on a neighbor’s front porch and abandoned him. He was in a rage now because, after all these years, she wanted back into his life.
At my suggestion he was able to work through the incident and see it through a clearer lens. I instructed him to call his mother and ask about her childhood. Maybe it would reveal her reasons for making the decision to leave him. The next day he came back in tears. His mother had told him of how her mother had done the same thing to her, but she never came back. Now she was trying to turn a page and be something better than her own mother had been.
Seeing the whole truth behind the traumatic event removed the wall for this man. It freed him from this barrier from the past that blocked his present. It allowed him to resolve his negative emotions, refocus his life, and develop a deep bond with his mother.
Many parents and children are estranged from each other, not realizing that they actually share a bond of neglect, a common experience of pain, and a mutual battle to move beyond walls of resentment and bitterness.
When an abandoned or abused person comes up for air from a life of bitterness, anger, and resentment, he can come to see that he did not have the whole story. The heartless person who inflicted the hurt may have found a heart, and the pain the victim feels may be that person’s biggest regret.
But my abuse was real
At this point you may be thinking, “I really am being abused or the horror of my childhood is not a phantom wall. It is not something I just made up; it happened.” If those are your thoughts, or anything close, I am very aware of real abuse in the past and living with impossible people in the present. I do not discount your pain for one second. Life for many is a living hell.
But I would not be writing this if I did not believe the worst situations can be helped. Even if you were living in the worst possible abusive situation or the most neglectful and disconnected relationship, you may have built a wall that keeps you stuck in a dark place where you don’t have to stay. Children are not responsible for the abuse that robs them of their childhood, but as adults they are responsible for their reactions to that early life that could rob them of a meaningful adulthood. Once you take responsibility, you will find new hope and insight as you get your life unstuck and move past your wall.
This is an excerpt taken from Walking Into Walls – 5 Blind Spots That Block God’s Work in You by Stephen Arterburn. Available for purchase at Koorong or any good bookstore.
Copyright © 2011 by Stephen Arterburn
Published by Worthy Publishing, 124 North Franklin Road, Brentwood, Tennessee 37027
This article was first published in the August 2011 glossy edition of RISE magazine. See back issues here.