Have you ever met someone where you can just sense that they’re really guarded? Maybe they seem like they’re keeping you at a distance or not wanting to get too close? I have encountered this many times, most often in the context of counseling my clients. It’s not unusual for people to be uncomfortable the first few sessions when they start counseling. They worry that they might be judged; they’re taking the first step into an uncertain journey and this can naturally make us feel very vulnerable.
I’ll never forget one of the young ladies I worked with when I first started counseling. She walked into my office and was visibly more guarded than my typical client. She gave short responses to every question I asked and could barely make eye contact. Even when I tried to lighten the mood and help make her comfortable, I could hardly move the blank expression on her face. She left after that first session and I remember feeling like I had just ended an interrogation session rather than a counseling session because of how uncomfortable it was. I hoped that this was just some first session jitters, and that next time she would slowly become more comfortable. It didn’t happen. Session after session she came and I could hardly get her to engage. I felt like I was hitting a wall during each session and everywhere I turned was a dead end. I was getting frustrated with her, myself and God.
I was frustrated with myself because I thought, “I should be a better therapist. It’s probably because I’m not doing enough.” I was personalizing it and making it about me because of my own insecurities and the need to “fix” the situation. I was frustrated with her because I thought, “I’m over here trying and you’re giving me nothing to work with.” I didn’t want to see her in pain because it brought out my sense of helplessness, and I felt powerless to change her situation. And I was frustrated with God because I thought, “You wanted me to help your children and here she is and you’re not giving me any help” (I can now smile at my arrogance in that moment). It sounds dramatic and I probably was, but when you’re pouring yourself into someone and you see nothing, it’s tempting to get angry, annoyed, disillusioned or just want to give up on that person altogether. We are so conditioned in our culture to judge ourselves by seeing results (and seeing them quickly), and we sometimes get so caught up in them, we don’t see that God is working through this journey. In those moments of frustration, God was reminding me that I needed to better define what my role was and what His role was, because I was trying to do both our roles and it wasn’t working.
Eventually, my client ended up disclosing to me that she had been sexually assaulted and that she had tried to open up to her family about it and they didn’t believe her. After that she never attempted to share it with anyone again. She repressed her trauma, turned to cutting to numb out her pain, and she shut down – physically, emotionally and spiritually. This was the broken down girl that I had been seeing each week, sitting across from me with nothing to give and walls that were too strong for me to penetrate on my own. In that moment, I understood her walls. I sensed her pain. It all made sense. I could respect why it took so long for her to finally feel safe enough with me to share her shame and let me see her deepest wound. We sat there together, with tears in our eyes, and I listened to her story in detail for the first time. That day was a turning point. She let me in. She let her walls come down just enough for me to see what she was hiding behind them. And I saw beauty. I saw the courage of a young girl who was willing to take the risk of learning to trust again after suffering the most painful assault on her dignity, and then the subsequent rejection of her story by those who needed to hear her and comfort her. I knew it was only God’s grace in that moment, that enabled her to get to that place where she could slowly allow herself to begin to trust again. We continued to work together until the end of the year and little by little I saw life breathed back into her. She began to smile more and our sessions started to flow more naturally. Session after session I witnessed how love and feeling safe can change people. It was by no means an instantaneous transformation like we so often prefer. It was a slow painful process, that she took one day at a time. But as God always does, He showed up for her and carried her in visible ways.
I remember vividly our last session together which has become a simple but meaningful memory for me. As our final session came to a close and she stood up to leave, she stopped at the door, turned back around and with a smile of freedom and peace she looked at me and said, “thank you.” And then she left and went on with her life. It was nothing dramatic but in that final exchange I knew everything that “thank you” meant. Thank you for believing my story. Thank you for walking with me. Thank you for being patient with me. Thank you for creating a safe place for me to heal. Thank you for helping love my walls down. As the door closed behind her, it hit me that this was the last time I would see her, and I started to sob. I cried because it was one of the most beautiful journey’s I had been on with someone, and it was also one of the most emotionally draining. I sat there praising God because He didn’t just carry her; He carried me as well. I knew that without His guidance I had nothing to offer her on my own and without His wisdom, I would’ve never been able to understand her defenses, and meet her in that place of fear and pain. On my own, I am often afraid of the suffering and brokenness of other’s. But when I rely on Jesus, He helps me to enter into places I wouldn’t dare go on my own.
Through this one girl and the countless others that I have since worked with who carry similar stories of trauma and pain, I have learned a lot about people’s walls and the power of love. They have taught me to not underestimate the power of silence or the power of just being present with someone. I have learned that walls are a sign of pain that has too often gone unwitnessed. But most beautifully, I’ve gotten to experience in a small way, the realities of God’s love for each of us. I often see myself in the young girl who had built walls because of her pain. I see myself in her fear of trusting others and the compulsion to protect oneself against rejection. And yet, every day God enters into our fear, brokenness, and pain and He sits with us, listens to us, and patiently waits for us to respond to His love and healing power. He doesn’t force His way into our hearts impatiently, He doesn’t grow tired of our brokenness or get frustrated with our walls (like I often do). He just loves us in a way that eventually loves our walls down. He loves us in a way that we eventually have the courage to risk being seen by Him because we feel safe enough to let Him in.
When we ask God each day to help us learn what it means to love others in their pain, and how to sit with them when we can’t change it or take it away, then He will teach us how to love. He will remind us that it’s not about us, and He will give us everything we need to walk with our brothers and sisters, who so desperately need us to understand what they’re afraid to show, behind their walls.
© 2018 Drewe DeJesus
Photo by Freely Photos, Joshua Sazon