I don’t remember what started the conversation that night.
I was a teenager. And my mom realized I was in pain. Something now long forgotten had made me sad. My mom decided I needed to learn a lesson.
She was sitting on our obnoxious dark blue floral print couch in the living room with a blanket over her legs and a book in her lap.
“Son, you’ve always had a sensitive personality,” she said. “You allow people to get very close to you. It’s important for you to know that living that way brings with it a big risk.”
“By allowing others deep into your life you’ll be able to form relationships that most people never experience. Those deeper connections will bring joy and love that few people ever feel,” she said.
“But, granting people that kind of access to you allows them the opportunity to severely hurt you. There will come times when you will feel a pain few people ever experience,” she warned.
“Russell, you’re old enough now to decide whether the joy is worth the pain. Are you going to keep letting people in that deep or not? You need to decide.”
And, with that the conversation was over.
I walked up the carpeted stairs and headed to the back corner of the house to my room.
Mothers often feel like no one is listening to them. The great challenge of their work is that they have to wait so long for their compensation.
Tonight, as I type on this keyboard sitting on a nearly empty dark plane flying high above western states I am thinking about that conversation with my mom decades ago.
Her challenge to me that night has never left me. My decision on how to live my life wasn’t made in one moment. It developed over years. It happened as I left home as a teenager and began my journey through this big and scary world.
On my journey I have discovered places I never knew existed. It took me many years to gain the vision necessary to see them. Some of you have found them. Others will have no idea what I’m talking about.
I’ve discovered that the people who live in these dark alleys are the people my mom was talking about on that night long ago. They are those who let someone deep into their lives. They placed great trust in someone. They loved someone. They invested everything they have and everything they are in someone.
And, something went terribly wrong.
The very person they allowed direct access to their heart shattered it. Now they have nothing left but a deep wound that refuses to heal.
Being hurt always causes us to retreat. Usually, it’s temporary. But, the pain I’m talking about is so profound that it has sent these individuals into hiding. They have retreated to the shadows. And they run whenever anyone tries to let in light.
Every once in a while they gain just enough courage or hope to come out of the shadows. They desperately want and need to grant someone access to their soul again. But, then they glance down at their open wound.
Ever since I was asked to serve in a leadership position in my church I have spent a considerable amount of time walking these lonely alleys.
I have come to learn the pain that comes in searching the shadows. Those who hide in the alleys often inflict injury on anyone who seeks to bring light into their lives. They do it out of fear. Fear that they simply do not have what it takes to live outside the alleys again.
To those trying to help someone in the shadows I cannot adequately communicate how much I respect you. I have gained some insight into the pain that comes from your efforts. I have seen enough to know of your exhaustion. Your disappointment. Your struggle to maintain hope.
The reward for walking the alleys rarely comes in words of gratitude from those who’ve been helped to the light. I’m slowly learning to stop seeking it there although that’s easier said than done.
The joy comes in moments. Moments when we are able to see someone who has been hiding in the shadows for years get the courage to come out and stand in brilliant sunshine and smile. Those brief moments bring to those who witness them a sweetness that my vocabulary cannot describe. Oh, how we wish they would last longer than a fleeting moment. For some that dream will become reality. Until then, we must bask in those brief moments of light.
To those reading this post who are living in the alleys I plead with you to stop running. And, hiding. Please stop suspecting that everyone in your life will eventually hurt you the way you’ve been hurt before. Stop punishing those who seek to help you. I know it takes courage. Go slow but please come into the light. You can experience joy again in your life. You can escape the shadows. The people in your life need you to go to the light. Get on your knees and you will gain strength from above.
To those who can’t see the alleys I realize this blog post is nothing but confusing. Eventually your vision will change as you gain life experience. Others of you are only pretending you can’t see them. Your life is easier as a result. But it is also of less consequence.
The reality is my mom was right.
I had no idea the pain she mentioned was actually that sharp. That it could make it difficult to breathe. To get out of bed. To function.
And, I had no idea the joy was that sweet. That it could feel that good. That it could bring such a deeper meaning to life.
To anyone considering their own response to the question my mom posed to me I say… Let them in.
I’ve come to firmly believe the joy is worth the pain.