She lost her mother before she was even able to grieve.  You don’t need Attachment Theorists to convince you how extraordinarily significant this loss must have been.  She was just two…barely able to understand.  And this, some might say, is an advantage.  At two, you don’t know any better.  But, everything we know today says something very different.  At two, Mom is your world.  And if Mom goes, so goes your world.

But human beings are resilient.  I’ve seen severely abused young women become successful traders and managers and entrepreneurs.  That does not necessarily mean that they are successful. Human beings have evolved into expert compartmentalizers.  Some of the most successful young men and women I know stuffed away large parts of themselves very early on, even unwittingly, in order to become the so-called successes they are today.

And so, my client became a success, despite her mother’s death at an early age.  Her Dad’s coping strategy was to extinguish every memory of Mom.  No grieving.  No memorializing.  Soon, a Stepmother entered the picture.  And there were no conversations, photos, or side chats about Mom.  She was gone.  Quite literally.

Many years later, my client comes to me for therapy.  Her presenting problem – depression.  I find that she is a compulsive exerciser.  Her only release is in the gym.  In fact, it is there where she feels.  In fact, in the gym, she and her body become one.  Many years before, I suspect, she disconnected from her body.  She shut down her feelings.  She buried her pain.  But now, exercise brings her life.

When I say to her that exercise is the very place where she feels, she begins to cry.  I continue saying that I think that exercise is where her body feels held, where she connects to something she desperately longs for…the feeling of being held, loved.  She weeps…uncontrollably.  She knows.

Exercise may be her idol.  And sure…she may need to repent.  But what’s really going on?  She is desperate for love.  Mom’s hold daughters.  But she wasn’t held.  And her body is saying what her mind and heart long to say – that she wants to be held, loved, enjoyed, cared for.  Exercise is her entryway into belonging.  Exercise is where she comes alive.

“No one has ever seen that,” she tells me.  She feels known.  She finds a picture of her deceased mother, and places it on her dresser.

She will likely always enjoy running and exercise.  But today she’s begun a bigger journey.  She will grieve.  And pray more deeply than she’s ever prayed.  And she’ll speak to a picture, sitting atop her dresser, of a mother long gone.

And God will hear.  A God who gets to the heart of the matter – Love.

(Note: Whenever I refer to someone I saw for counseling, I am using a mosaic of clients who I have seen, not an actual client.  I cannot violate the confidential relationship counseling demands.)

4 thoughts on “Love at the Core:: An Illustration

  1. This is very helpful. In fact, MANY of your posts have been furthering my thoughts about what people need in the counseling room. So grateful to have happened across your blog. I am a graduate student in a Christian counseling program, and I feel a pull in different aspects of my program between the emphasis you are advocating–helping people grieve losses and identify God-given longings—and the “sin/idol” emphasis on the other side. And in my own experience as a client, I found the heavy focus upon identifying sin/idols and confession and meditation on truth extremely unhelpful… not because I’m not a sinner. But because I had no understanding of what was driving me. So I could confess all the day long, but I was still clueless about why I struggled those ways, until many years later when I began to grasp & grieve the hurt I had experienced. So I agree with what you are saying. But can you help me drive it deeper? As a Christian counselor, where DOES identifying sin, confession, “the hurt you do to others”…belong as you counsel?

  2. It’s a powerful story, and it makes your point well, that not all of our problems are solved by “repentance.” But apart from the reference to deeper prayer at the end of the narrative, what is it that makes this a distinctively Christian counseling session? Or does it need to be a distinctively Christian counseling session in the first place? Or, to put it differently, you make a compelling case that the longing for love is a basic need. But if so, how then does this basic need engage the core Christian story, particularly surrounding the fall narrated in the opening chapters of Genesis, and its solution portrayed in the death and resurrection of Jesus?

    1. PS: Much of the earlier posts on the blog walking through the Exodus story addressed this too. Some of what I’m doing here is distinguishing between paradigms. But I’ll try to get to your q’s in it. Thx.

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