I went through a season several months ago where things in my life just didn’t feel right. I wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be in my career, but I wasn’t sure how to move things forward. I could tell my marriage wasn’t living up to its full potential but I felt blank about how to make it right.
Needless to say, I was feeling a little discouraged.
I had talked to several friends about what to do and tried their suggestions. One friend suggested I stop letting people “walk all over me” and start being a little more assertive. It was a good suggestion, in theory, so I put it to use. But in the end I just ended up feeling even more like I wasn’t myself.
A few weeks later, I was at a party.
We were milling around a friend’s house, sipping wine and eating little plates of cheese and meat. A friend, who also happens to be a counselor, asked me how I was doing.
I told him I was okay—but not great. I was feeling a little out-of-sorts, I said. I gave him a few details and then waited patiently for him to tell me what I should do about it.
He looked out the window. Outside the window there was a Dogwood tree. I knew it was a Dogwood tree because this was a house where I spent a good deal of time and had talked about it with my friends who lived there.
The first winter they lived there, they almost cut the tree down.
It was so bare and unsightly.
And it blocked the view of the rest of the backyard.
But then, a few months later, we all learned together that Dogwood trees are those beautiful creatures that explode into a frenzy of pink blossoms in the spring.
So my friend looked out the window at the tree and said to me, “what advice do you think the Dogwood tree would give you?” My stomach dropped a little, the way it tends to when a therapist asks you a question you think is weird, but you’re pretty sure you’re supposed to know the answer to.
A few things stuck out to me in that moment.
First of all, I realized this friend was the only one of my friends who didn’t give me advice when I asked for it. In fact, he basically asked me to give advice to myself. He used the Dogwood tree as a way to help me objectify the situation and get the most clear-headed response.
Second, I realized the advice I had given myself was better than the advice any of my other friends had given me—even though they’re all very smart people with lots of wisdom to share. My advice was better because it was well-suited for me and for my specific situation and because I am, well, me.
It’s like a pair of jeans that just fit.
In that moment, I realized something really destructive I had believed about myself for a long time that was keeping me from making the progress I wanted in my marriage, career, and life. It was why I was feeling so discouraged and why I was dwelling on my problem and complaining that I didn’t know how to fix it.
I believed I was broken, sinful, and only bad all the time. I believed I couldn’t be trusted.
That’s why I was asking everyone else for advice, without ever considering the option of consulting that still, small whisper inside of me that helps me and calms me and keeps me at peace by gently showing me the next step.
With this advice—the advice I gave myself—my spirit settled.
I felt at home with myself again.
I felt at peace. The discouragement lifted. And even more than that, all the next steps I knew I needed to take began to become clear and manageable to me.
I’m not sure where I picked up the idea that I can’t be trusted.
I wonder if it was my own distortion of the Christian message or if it was insecurity getting the best of me. But either way, what I realized in that moment is that if God is in me, and if He is in you, we can be trusted. In fact, that quiet teacher that lives inside of our hearts might just be the most valuable teacher we have.
I love the way Parker Palmer puts it:
“…we all have an inner teacher whose guidance is more reliable than anything we can get from doctrine, ideology, collective belief system, institution or leader.”
To be fair, I also feel like I should point out that I had a hard time hearing the voice of wisdom inside of me until, in community, someone helped me to mill it out. Often times this inner wisdom gets buried beneath the noise of insecurity, pain and fear.
In order to help each other grow and blossom into our own, miraculous selves, we have to learn to trust ourselves, to stop thinking of ourselves as “only bad all the time.” We have to learn to help each other, in community, get beneath the noise of fear and get to the quiet wisdom we carry inside.