On Healing 7/20/2009: Taking that first scary step on life’s journey

Come to the edge, he said.
They said: We are afraid.
Come to the edge, he said.
They came.
He pushed them and they flew.
– Christopher Logue

I have a new friend named Jacob and we recently celebrated his first birthday. He had no idea what was going on, of course, but he did taste cake for the first time. He loved it. Apparently he’s read all the books on developmental psychology because he’s doing everything he is supposed to do at the right time: crawling, babbling, fingers everywhere.

Jake is adorable and happy, and he is now standing on his own. And once he realizes he is standing on his own he gets scared and sits down. Perhaps you’ve observed what comes next. Perhaps you’ve experienced it yourself, as an adult.

Last week my little friend was at my house with his babysitter when he pulled himself up on her leg. When he let go, she took a step back. And there he stood, wobbling a bit with eyes as wide as saucers. He reached his hand out for her to secure him, but she didn’t take it. Instead, she held her hand just beyond his grasp.

And there he stood: unsteady and looking for security from someone he trusted. He slowly began to sit down on the floor and then, before his diaper made contact, he righted himself and again reached out to the babysitter. But she merely encouraged Jake to take the step necessary to reach her hand. I watched as his eyes and his little chest seemed to be moving rapidly. I wanted desperately to save him from his distress.

And then it happened, just like we knew it would: He took his step. We all applauded. My eyes welled up with tears.

In the Hebrew Bible, God says to Abraham: “Leave your father’s house.” In effect, leave what is familiar – leave what you have known to be “home” in order to begin the journey of your life. Neurologically speaking, that’s what Jake did. He chose not to sit down and crawl. He embarked instead on the unfamiliar, having no idea what would happen. In the process, he literally took the first step in his journey of life.

To grow, we must loosen our grasp on the familiar. There is no easier way. Abraham had to leave his father’s house. The rest of us must leave the narrative we’ve spun for ourselves – the story of who we are, how we behave, and what we need in order to feel better or happy or secure.

“She” says she has been in a marriage without love and can’t live that way anymore. She says “he” is not capable of love. She says she has tried for many years to live up to his expectations. She says she was insecure from the beginning of the marriage because her father never loved her properly. She says she is entitled to have her needs met. Once her needs are met, she says, she will be happy or secure. That’s her narrative. Every word may be true, but not very helpful. And the more she suffers, the more deeply she believes that narrative to be true, the worse she feels.

Think about your narrative and how it defines who you are. Are you a leader or a victim or a workaholic? Perhaps you are a chronic caretaker or depressive or disabled or insecure or disordered in some other way. Is your unhappiness because of the person you are living with or working with, or is it caused by your upbringing or genetics? Will happiness come when you have enough money and love and when your children are grown and secure, or do you believe it will never come? The answers to these questions are part of your narrative.

But suppose what you think you need is not really what you need, and all of those explanations for your unhappiness are not accurate? What if the things you think will make you happy won’t make you happy?

When we release our grasp on our narrative, we find ourselves in exactly the same place Jake was as he stood on the floor, alone, reaching out, not knowing what would happen the very next moment. In other words, very, very scared – and then, with one small step, able to take a giant leap into a new future.

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