When I think of what it must be like to be my therapist, I imagine the job feels like some combination of working as a farrier in a long-neglected barn and waiting every week for the next season of “The White Lotus” on HBO.
I like to work hard in therapy, most of the time, so I show up at sessions with a list and a box of Kleenex, and my therapist does not disappoint. Sometimes I hate it. May the Lord bless her and keep her, in other words.
I’m giving you all this background to tell you that, in the last few weeks, she and I have been caught in a stalemate over one specific issue.
A few weeks ago, we were talking about a difficult situation I’ve been navigating, and she said to me, “Amy, I do not think XXX is fundamentally able to change.”
Her words landed in my heart and stuck with me all week, irritating like a splinter you can’t quite remove. So, I worked up my courage to add it to the list for our next session.
“I disagree with you about something,” I told her with no small measure of trepidation. “I didn’t like what you said about inability to change.”
Then she asked me how I felt about that, which is annoyingly what therapists always do, you know. And, well, here’s how I feel about that: I feel mad. Because I don’t believe that people are fundamentally unable to change.
I have to cling to the conviction that every day we wake up breathing, we have a choice to change, to embrace health, to tell the truth, to do our work.
And perhaps that’s a delusional perspective, but there’s a lot of pain in the world, a lot of people whose lives are crippled by that pain, and a lot of unwillingness to tell the truth about the consequences of hoarding our pain. But we can, if we can gather up the courage to face the raw fear of doing it.
That’s the catch, isn’t it? Fear is something that chases us until we can’t breathe. It lies to us about who we are and what we can become. It’s a big, hard hill to climb because after all, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.
But one thing I have learned in therapy and do believe is that the life you long for is always on the other side of the fear.
I think about this often in the context of my own life, and, like many of you, I confront it every day in the church. As our traditional institutions face decline, we’re living in denial if we don’t admit that we’re moving through a major shift in how we corporately express our faith.
It feels like it came hurtling at us out of the blue, but if we’re honest, everything we’ve known and cherished is changing and it has been for many decades. Which feels very much like an ending. Which is full of all kinds of fear.
If we can’t get young families to come to church, meet the budget, staff the committees, find a good pastor and fix the roof, well, it’s easy to lean back into fear-fueled panic and adopt desperate measures to try to hold it all together.
Because if the church as we have always known it goes away, does everything that has anchored my life disappear, too?
What about all the babies who were blessed in the sanctuary? The potluck Christmas parties in the fellowship hall? The quilt on the wall with my adult son’s tiny baby footprint on it? The time I sat in the back pew and cried and cried until some measure of peace slipped into calm my heart?
If the church as we know it goes away, so much of what we find familiar goes away, too. We don’t know what will replace it, but whatever it is, it can’t be as fun as youth lock-ins.
See? Fear. And merited fear, I’d say.
But the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, and God’s mercies never come to an end. And community and faith and impact we’ve always longed for is always on the other side of the fear.
Every day we wake up breathing, we have a choice to change, to embrace health, to tell the truth, to do our work. We have the choice. It’s not an easy one, but it’s ours to make.
Can we do it for our own lives and for the institution we love? Can we change? Yes, we can, if only we will let go of the fear and push through to whatever is just ahead.
Look, I wouldn’t want to be my therapist, so I do have some compassion for her. But the bottom line on this matter is this: my therapist is wrong.
And there is just no way I will change my mind about that.
Founder of Invested Faith, she previously served as pastor of several churches, including as the seventh senior minister and first woman at the helm of The Riverside Church in the City of New York. Butler holds degrees from Baylor University, the International Baptist Theological Seminary and Wesley Theological Seminary. She is a contributing correspondent at Good Faith Media.