Situations and the way they affect you are based on previous situations and the way they affected you in the past. This is how you learn to avoid pain and failure, and it’s how you learn to predict outcomes for the purpose of planning. Two different people can be in the same situation and pull two different interpretations out of it. Experience is personal. Perspective is a unique combination of genetics and experience.
It’s important to understand how perspective works because it aids in compassion and acceptance of differences. It can also help you understand yourself.
There is a reason that people say “you are the sum total of your experiences” or “you are the people you meet”. The truth behind those sayings has more to do with the lessons those experiences and people provide than with what and who they are.
When you’re in the middle of navigating your own pain, you have to look at your entire life for understanding the same way a psychologist or counselor would help you look at your life. I’m calling this “pain tracing”. It’s the idea of peeling back the layers of the flesh of a fruit to find the seeds.
I’ll use my own journey to illustrate what I’m talking about.
In the aftermath of my own sin, it took me a really long time to accept the rejection of every person I hurt. The logic behind being rejected is sound. I did something terrible and the consequences were broken relationships. It’s how the world works. The fact that it cut me deeper than I could handle was because it brought back the pain of rejection I have felt my entire life.
I was a foster child who never belonged to my own temporary family. There was no longevity, no real investment into me, and the resulting ‘good-bye’ that always came taught me how to never fully say “hello” in my relationships. People always left, so I never let them in. I was nine when my mother gave me up for adoption. I literally did not belong to anybody. I belonged to a cold and broken government whose only goal was to find someone to take responsibility for me.
Skipping ahead, when I became a Christian, my church family became my family. When they responded to my sin by washing their hands of me, they literally handed me over to Satan and gave him responsibility over me. That’s when God stepped in and revealed the truth about who He was to me. He was my father. He was my family and he would never kick me out. As dysfunctional as I can be, I’ll always be His. He is where my roots are.
The truth of the Gospel saved my life, but it didn’t take my pain away. The aftermath of my sin brought up feelings of zero self-worth that I had kept buried because I thought it was healed. The fact that I wasn’t healed from my childhood pain enabled me to sin the way I did and crushed me when I had to own up to it.
Talking yourself through the process of pain tracing looks like this:
- How do you feel?
- Have you ever felt like this before?
- What were the circumstances that made you feel like this in the past?
- When was the first time you remember feeling like this?
- What were the circumstances surrounding that?
There lies the root to your pain.
I’ll answer those questions to show you how it works:
- alone, rejected, worthless, toxic, unwanted, displaced
- When I lived on my own at 17, when I was bullied in school, when I was moved from foster home to foster home
- When I was left to fend for myself as a little girl. I was probably between 4 and 6.
- I would be left alone by my mother. Locked outside all day or locked in a room with no food all day.
Experiences that you have today are tainted by the experiences you’ve had throughout your life. If you look at today as though it had no connection with yesterday, then you’ll miss a huge tool for healing. The healing is not just for right now, it’s all encompassing.
I can easily see that my own failure warrants my feelings of being alone. Rejection is the price I pay. My failure did not add value to my relationships. I was a toxic force that dismantled lives and I lost my place in those lives. There is nothing left to examine, but the pain remained. In pain tracing, my whole life got examined.
A person would not normally look at a child and attribute those qualities to her. If a little girl felt alone, rejected, worthless, toxic, unwanted, and displaced you would know that she had been horribly lied to and you would try to convince her otherwise.
The difference between the child and the adult is where the finger of blame is pointed. If you can find a reason to blame the child, then you would not rescue her. If you can blame the adult, then she is cast out and left to be consumed by her sense of self.
The separation between the way the world works and the way God works is found in the way we view children and the way we view adults. We can call an adult a lost cause long before we can call a child a lost cause. However, God calls us all “children”. He sees us the way He saw us when we were children because, to Him, that’s what we are. Until the child within us hears the truth about our Father, we will be brought to the same place over and over. We will feel the same thing in the midst of different circumstances again and again until we start to connect the dots and trace the pain to the broken places.
It’s my own belief that God allows whatever circumstances to take place for the purpose of getting us to see Him. Our circumstances show us where those broken places are.