While most everyone claims to want inner peace, few are willing to do the work. I understand. The work is a lot like peeling the paint off an old post, as you can see me doing in the accompanying photo. The paint is old, cracked and hardened. The layers are many and each shiny new coat fails to hide the uneven bumps and cracks in the wood beneath. Some patches stubbornly refuse to come off.
Forty is a good age to start. The outer layers are the most visible. We paint a new love relationship over the old one, which in turn covered up perhaps our first love. Buried well below those coats of paint are the pains of the teen years, the ones where you learned to fake it out of fear you wouldn’t make it. If you sand as persistently as I did, you uncover the layers of paint as an eight year old. My therapy group mate Harry wisely commented that this was the age he realized he could lie and his parents would never know.
The layers don’t stop there. Your parents coldly threw you into grade school. Suddenly you had rules to follow and people other than your parents could berate you. Some even loved you, as did Miss Emerson my first grade teacher. Never shall I forget the joy she gave me as I won a Three Musketeers bar for winning a class reading competition, not once but twice. That was a shiny coat of paint. I got love and attention by outduelling other people. The trap was set.
Therapy is an important part of peeling off the paint that has encrusted your heart. Therapy stirs the dark recesses of your mind. Two coats of paint came off for me while away from my therapist’s office. After all, when you pursue inner peace, it is a 24/7 mission trip. The first coat came off when, without warning, I felt the loss of my first girlfriend twenty years earlier, a woman whom I had deeply loved at age 20. I coldly cast her aside in a fit of inner rage masked as “housekeeping.” Out the door with her went my teenage smoking habit and my procrastinating study habits.
Johnny the iron-fist was born that day. The cost was frozen grief, a coat of paint that covered up the loss of a love that that I failed to mourn. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.” That day, I wept in a healing pain, writing her a letter that I wisely never mailed.
Later, I hit a second horrifying coat of paint. I was a toddler alone in my single bed, clutching Sparky, my gray stuffed elephant with big red ears. A tiger pounced on me mid-air, white fangs glaring through vivid orange and black stripes. This nightmare, my therapist later explained, was likely my coming into the awareness of my separateness from my mother. All children, he said, begin life believing they and their mother are one and the same being. This is a wound we all experience, it would seem, a terrifying entry into the cold cruel world.
At that time, more than fifteen years ago, I likened my journey to the Princess and the Pea. I was in search of a pea buried deep within that I could not feel but finally knew it had to exist. One day I saw it vividly for the first time. It was frozen in an ice cube. How I wanted that ice cube to melt! One day it did but I’ll save that story for another time.
While peeling the paint off my porch, I injured my hand on the belt sander. A large two-inch scrape oozed with bright red blood. You bleed a little when you peel the paint off your heart. Now, I am grateful to feel the pain, no longer numbed out by work-aholism and ego-driven fantasies masking my self-loathing. My heart has become sensitive and compassionate.
Most importantly, my heart does not rule me. Neither rage nor despair frighten me. Like the roaring tiger, I have cast them into the wild. They no longer call my heart home. They cannot abide where the peace of the Lord abides. In its place rests one special fruit of the Spirit – forbearance.