“…and please bring to light any dark areas of my life. Amen,” she finished praying as her feet hit the hardwood floor
Touched by the light theme of last month’s Faith magazine, she felt satisfaction in her bravery to bring the theme full circle into her prayer life. She pulled the covers up over the bed, fluffed her pillow and turned the corner as her feet hit the bathroom tile.
After brushing her teeth, Helen pulled back her shoulder-length, naturally blond hair in a large tortoise clip, and splashed her fair skin with cool water. Drying her damp cheeks and neck off with the hand towel, she paused noticing her youthful reflection. What everyone had always called her blue eyes were actually more of a green, she decided. She brushed her dirty blond bangs aside and leaned in toward the mirror to observe intently the true green with some gold flecks sprinkled around the center.
When she did, something foundational shifted. A black curtain rolled back granting to her visual access to her interior world.
Helen’s soul was not as bright as she thought. And she could see why. It lay hidden behind two muddied lenses to the outside world. Three hidden crevices deep in the interior glowed, but not enough to brighten the whole. For as long as she could remember, her inner world had been fully concealed as she naturally busied herself in order to avoid facing it.
Immediately upon discovery of this bizarre new world, a gentle peace took hold of her, a poignant reminder of her prayer request. The peace gave her a comforting intuitive flash of knowledge that she was on a long course to one day being filled with so much light that her lenses would be clear and bright as well.
Amidst the peace, Helen struggled with unbelief and discouragement at the unpleasant sight because she had actually been proud of her recent spiritual growth. Her memory quickly pounced on the truth that God looks beyond the outward appearance and into the heart. As her thoughts landed, she realized that she had been looking at herself through her outward appearance and striving to keep it all together in concern for what others might think.
Although uncomfortable to her, she now held her inner and outer worlds in better perspective. As she adjusted to the new balance, it became evident to her that her determination to keep it all together actually served to wall off and deny the very issues she needed to face. Her heart sank full of confusion and unresolved pain. Rumbling within her teemed a large overwhelming tangle of unforgiveness, resentment, condemnation of herself and others, pride, self-righteousness and denial.
Helen and her elderly parents hadn’t spoken in six years. Their last fallout had occurred over her desire to move to the West coast in order to take advantage of a transfer opportunity with her company and begin a new chapter in her life. Her parents had insisted that she, the youngest and surprise late mid-life baby, stay put and even used guilt to try to manipulate her in to staying. This tactic only fueled Helen’s anger bringing back dreadful memories of her harsh and stifled childhood and feeding her tendency to isolate herself.
When others spoke to Helen, their words in route to her ears became distorted as they passed through the wounds of her tangled heart. This clogged filter caused strain in her relationships, especially with her boss, Jim, and her boyfriend, Christopher. She interpreted their interactions with her as being controlling, even when they would request a simple favor from her. For instance, when her boss asked her on occasion to stay an hour late with the team to assist with the preparations for the following day’s presentation, her stomach twisted into a knot holding inner rage toward his apparent aggression in confining her. Furthermore, when her doting fiancé insisted on picking her up for their weekly dinner date, she fought fury over feeling incarcerated by not driving alone to meet him there.
With the turmoil of Helen’s unveiled soul before her eyes, astonishingly the peace she found would not release her. It wrapped her firmly in the face of the challenge, as if to say, “I have made you clean already. Let’s get rid of this stuff that doesn’t belong.”
“…and I’m afraid of it all. Are you sure I need to do this? Help me. Amen,” she concluded her prayer, wiping a stray tear from her eye. Her feet sprang to the wooden floor again. She swung the covers over the bed and turned in to the bathroom to wash up. As she dried her face, she heard the answer.
“Ask and you will receive,” the gentle voice spoke. Helen paused, hairbrush in hand, knowing that was the answer to her prayer for help. But she didn’t understand just how.
In the break room at lunch that afternoon, a new employee with a loose auburn ponytail and a temporary name tag entered, looking awkward and indecisive about where to sit as all the tables were occupied. In her peripheral vision, Helen watched her meander around with her purse, lunch bag and introductory folder in hand, passed the coffee bar and refrigerator over and around to the soda dispensers. Remembering her own discomfort in facing the crowd on her first day at work, Helen empathized with her.
“Here’s a seat,” Helen offered generously as she approached, pulling out the hidden empty chair next to her.
“Thank you,” she replied quietly with eyes full of life, “I’m Claire,” taking the seat and hanging her purse on the back. With Clair’s refreshingly receptive spirit Helen couldn’t help but fall at ease. They seemed to make an instant connection as if they had known each other before. Unzipping her green lunch bag Claire glanced at Helen and continued the conversation. “Have you worked here long?” Claire asked her unpretentiously while angling her chair toward Helen.
“Not really. Just over a year,” Helen answered nodding. She lowered her voice, “a long year.” Claire smiled and put her napkin in her lap.
”Is it really that bad here?” she asked quietly, looking at the other employees eating and conversing at the tables around them, and unwrapping and taking a bite of her sub sandwich.
“It’s not just this place,” explained Helen with her voice still lowered, “It’s this combined with all I’ve been through lately. Doe-eyed, she awaited Claire’s response holding her soda.
“Yeah, I know how you feel,” Claire interjected softly, to Helen’s surprise, seeming to understand. “I’ve been through a lot myself,” she added, wiping with her napkin a mixture of mustard and mayonnaise from the side of her mouth.
Helen paused, tensing up, unsure of what to say next and uncomfortable for opening up so soon to Claire. She twisted and twirled her straw paper fighting fear, and at last decided to continue the authenticity.
“How do you handle it?” she asked under her breath, breaking through her fear.
“Well,” Claire replied with a gentle smile of relief, and swallowing, “I have help.”
“Oh? From who?” Helen inquired, figuring that Claire must have the funds to pay a therapist.
“My small group,” she answered matter-of-factly, then took another bite.
“What’s that like?” Helen asked, wringing her hands under the table. Claire chewed for a minute, swallowed and took a sip of her iced tea.
“My friends and I get together and help one another,” she expounded with subdued excitement brushing the bread crumbs off of her mouth. “To tell you the truth,” she added, in a half whisper and making serious eyes, “I don’t know how people live without one.”
“Really? You tell a group of people about your problems?” Helen replied cautiously, leaning back skeptically and folding her arms. “I don’t know about that,” she offered shaking her head slightly.
“They’re only five others,” Claire explained, pulling down the wrapping on what was left of her sandwich, “and they’re all safe people who totally love me.” Her soothing words lowered the volume of Helen’s anxiety. And that word, safe, she used was odd but most intriguing.
“Hm,” she reflected on Claire’s disposition. There was something striking about her in that she wasn’t caught up in the fray of life.
Helen abruptly remembered the answer to her prayer, “Ask and you shall receive.” It amplified her courage in the moment and broke forth.
“Do you know,” she asked bravely, “… where I could find one?” She leaned her elbows on the table looking sideways at her with her mouth curled to one side. “From what you’ve said,” she leveled with her, “I think I might be overdue.”
“Sure,” Claire responded with a smile of validation, crushing her sandwich wrapper with both hands and opening her fruit cup, “Your local church or community center has all kinds of groups. Where do you live?”
“Oak Grove South,” Helen shared tentatively, whisking her hair behind her shoulder and bouncing her lower leg across the other under the table, awaiting the new information.
“Oh, I know that area. I pass through when I go to visit my brother,” she replied, thinking and stroking her fruit back and forth in the cup. “There’s the Y, the Temple on 3rd street, First Pres., and don’t forget Southside Memorial. Give them a call,” she continued, nodding and holding a spoonful of sliced fruit to her mouth. “If the first one doesn’t feel right, keep looking. You’ll find a fit,” Claire suggested, finally eating her bite of fruit.
Helen listened, tilting her head to the side and raising her eyebrows. “And here’s my number,” Claire mumbled with her mouth full, grabbing her pen from the side pocket of her purse.” She swallowed. “…in case you ever need anything,” she finished her sentence.
“Thanks,” Helen commented, fear and hope warring within her. Reading the number scribbled on a napkin, she looked at Claire. “’preciate it,” she said.
“…and thank you for Claire. Amen,” she closed her prayer and rolled off the bed. Pulling the covers over the bed, she headed around the corner to wash up. Helen finished brushing her teeth and rinsing her face. Grabbing a fresh hand towel, she dried her face while clinging to hope and feeling reassured to have bravely asked Claire about the group and gotten such a helpful answer.
I asked, she thought to herself, elbowing fear aside…and I need to ask again. She looped the towel through the ring and dug in her leather purse across the room on her desk for her cell phone where she had stored the list of contact numbers of potential meetings in her area that she had located online the night before. Finding the list, she scrolled down and began dialing.
Helen left the office later than usual and arrived ten minutes before seven, parking in front of the modern brick building. She entered the double glass doors and the young, dark-haired, muscular employee in an orange sports tank dribbling a basketball behind the counter at the information center directed her to room 23. “Thanks,” she replied and made a ninety degree turn down the hall hearing the echoing voices and splashes from the far off indoor swimming pool.
Spotting the numbers over the third door on the left, she slowed her pace. Her stomach began to churn. Hoping no one was there yet, she gritted her teeth passing over the threshold with soft steps. To her relief, only the group leader was there. Leaning over a stack of papers on her blue jean lap with her long brunette hair hiding her face, she sorted through them placing random sheets in a folder in the chair by her side. At the faint sound of Helen’s flats, she glanced up inquisitively.
“Hello! Welcome,” the leader greeted her, placing her papers on the seat beside her. She stood, tucking her pen in the back pocket of her jeans. “Sam for Samantha,” she introduced herself with a friendly smile and outstretched hand as the whistle hanging on the blue fabric cord around her neck jingled softly.
“I’m Helen,” she replied, noticing the pretty face without make-up.
“Here. Have a seat,” Sam offered her a seat directly across the small circle. Helen sat and noticed the colorful, captivating posters and charts on the wall behind Sam. “How’d you hear of us?”
“A friend at work. Her name is Claire,” said Helen. “She’s new,” she furthered.
“You don’t mean Claire Mundello?” she asked with a reserved look of expectation on her face, pulling back stray hairs behind her ear.
“Um, well, I just met her yesterday,” she answered smiling nervously. “I don’t know her last name yet,” Helen responded, removing her purse shoulder strap to place it on the floor and cracking her knuckles.
“Claire Mundello and I used to ride together. Great girl!” Sam said, eagerly. “Let me know what you find out.”
“Okay. How long has this group been meeting?” Helen asked, fighting intimidation as a newcomer.
“Forever!–Not really,” said Sam, joking in regards to her longtime position. “This particular group started two weeks ago, but the ministry began back in the 80’s. We have all kinds of small groups and newcomers are always welcome, unless it’s a closed group,” she continued. “That just means it’s long term and highly confidential,” she explained pursing her lips. “You know, sensitive subjects, that sort of thing,” she concluded, glancing at her watch.
“Oh. Okay. What are some of the other groups for?” Helen asked, prying.
“Well, we’ve got newlywed couples groups to AA to Anger Management to PTSD to Parenting and everything in between,” she answered.” And then there’s always the single men’s and women’s support group like this one,” Sam explained extending her hands reservedly in a Ta-Da expression. “We’ve got to stick together,” she commented with a ‘you-know-what-I-mean’ expression on her face and laughed. Helen smiled, feeling a bit more relaxed and appreciating Sam’s down-to-earth style.
An elderly volunteer entered with a tray full of water, soda, cookies and napkins and placed it on the rear table then exited the meeting room.
“Hey, Katherine, Kelly, come on in. This is Helen,” Sam offered, turning to greet the arriving group members and begin introductions.
“…and keep stirring the areas that need purging. And help me to be courageous –and transparent. I want to be like them. And thank you for Sam and Katherine and Beth and Kelly, and the girl with the sick mom and all their prayers for me.” Helen prayed in earnest. “And especially for letting me find them on my first try. Amen,” she whispered finishing her prayer. She lay still, staring in the twilight at the diamond-shaped ceiling light fixture. A ray of sun pierced through the half-pulled blinds throwing a bright stripe of morning light across her coral comforter. Helen raked her soul for the usual urge to jump up, but came up empty-handed.
Reflecting on her evening with the group, a new and daunting journey of growth she knew she had bravely undertaken. In spite of the lingering angst that she had fought last night in prying off the top to her secret can of worms, a fresh internal ease had caught wind during the drive home last night. The comforting effect of the authentic connection with the group had evidently blown out that upper layer of shame which had been suffocating her. The hospitality and acceptance she had received was refreshing, even with her messy soul tangle exposed. Still this was foreign and challenging territory for her. This would definitely have to be explored one step at a time, she reassured herself.
Furthermore, with Helen’s tangle exposed she knew she didn’t need to struggle with doubting the group’s opinions of her because they had made a solid pact of friendship, support and confidentiality. All members had trouble, and some issues dug even deeper than hers. Facing and muddling through the nerve-racking, repressed memories she dreaded dealing with would be very unsettling, she acknowledged squarely to herself. She would definitely need the others to hold her hand while recalling one in particular. Yet, she knew for sure that the undeniable voice of freedom was beckoning her. Not to follow was out of the question. And with the comprehensive connection and support of the group she knew that she would surely find light and relief at the end of this chapter in her journey.
Helen extended her arms above her head arching her back, and scrunched her face stretching hard. Half the air in the room she inhaled. Exhaling slowly, she sat up dangling her legs over the edge of the bed. The dew twinkling on the waxy leaves in the wooded lot behind her apartment caught her attention. That she could venture to trust again consumed her thoughts.
After washing up, Helen paused, scrutinizing her pale features as she dried her face and neck. She turned her face sideways and decided that those green eyes, believe it or not actually held a trace of calm. The inner world she now observedheld an answer to a forgotten prayer: a radiant glow dawning brightly right in the core. And her lenses were clearer holding a tiny clean spot holding fast.
Helen’s soul stirred a passionate mixture of dread and anticipation when she imagined the relief of exposing more of her tangle at the next meeting. Her thoughts swirled discerningly among the next layer of issues surfacing from within. She slowly hung up the towel and began dressing for work, thoughtfully rehearsing each angle she would present to Claire at lunch. She held to hope in surrendering to God’s work within her looking forward to hearing Claire’s helpful contributions and gleaning more pearls of wisdom for the journey ahead.
Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.”
2 Corinthians 13:5
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
1 Samuel 16:7
The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.
1 Peter 3:8
Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds
2 Peter 3:18
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen