"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." – African Proverb.
Just before my wife and I were engaged she studied abroad for 6 months. About four months in to our time away she mailed me a card with that quote. It resonated with me then, and it resonates with me now.
Especially, every time my family of four, with two young children, gets ready for the day. There is no "fast" when leaving the house!
I often want to move fast, especially when it comes to areas of brokenness in myself. But I've learned over the years that long-term healing comes from inviting others to join with me in my internal journey.
Humans have an innate desire for connection but a propensity towards isolation - particularly when it comes to our internal worlds. Statements such as "I've got to get myself together" or "physician heal thyself" highlight that in our places of pain, shame, or confusion, we tend isolate from others. We are taught (especially in the male experience) that to need others is akin to weakness.
“The great illusion we must all overcome is the illusion of separateness.” – Richard Rohr
We are striving creatures, but we often strive alone, seeking to confront our challenges with the same approach that worked for us in the past. But many of us find a point when our quick fixes for ourselves no longer prove useful.
One of the times I have experienced that “illusion of separateness” was after my wife’s first pregnancy ended in miscarriage. Those who have experienced a miscarriage know that it can be a lonely, quiet, isolating grief. After the miscarriage, I didn’t want to talk about it, and I certainly didn’t want the well meaning statement's of others. I had the desire to just “brush it off” and move on, “these things happen” I told myself. At times of discouragement I’d tell myself “You should to be strong for your wife.”
Things didn't started to change for me until an elderly nun from the hospital ER (where we went during the miscarriage) sent us an invitation in the mail to come to a “remembrance service” for those who had lost children during that year. I didn’t want to go, it was more comfortable to stay in isolation than acknowledge in the presence of others that I had lost a child. I also felt ashamed. The miscarriage was early in pregnancy, “how can my pain compare to those who have lost children?” During the service families were encouraged to speak the name of their children who passed. Once again, I felt ashamed. We had no name, and how could the pain compare? It wasn’t until I went forward to a memorial that I saw “Baby Ritter” written that my isolation disappeared and my grief became real. The elderly nun, whom we had met once, remembered us. We were not alone, and our pain was real, valid, and important. Shortly after that my wife and I joined a Psalms bible study where we each crafted a Psalm of Lament to be shared in community. There was a sacredness to both experiences, and both are examples of the many times that I have experienced healing through the presence of others.
Time and time again in the counseling room I experience something akin to those moments. I describe it as resonance.
It is when one person invites another to journey with (them) during times of change, crisis , or pain. The counseling room becomes sacred space as isolation is replaced with connection and I believe that God joins in
as well. It is in those moments of resonance that healing and change is possible.
Healing isn’t an alone process, we’re just not made that way.
Perhaps you are at one of those times when your individual striving has lost its usefulness. Or perhaps you long to have a safe place and a safe person to journey with you as you face feelings of isolation. Maybe you have been going so hard and fast for so long that you don't feel you can go anymore. If so may I invite you to “go together” with someone else? Counseling, a community group, or a trusted friend can all be important ways to short-circuit the “shame and isolation cycle” and allow you to begin healing. The healing may not go fast, but will “go far.”