We come with beautiful secrets, we come with purposes written on our hearts, written on our souls. We come to every new morning, with possibilities only we can hold, that only we can hold. I want to add to the beauty, to tell a better story. I want to shine with the light, that’s burning up inside.
Sara Groves, Add to the Beauty
It was in a season of brokenness that I first encountered this song by writer and performer Sara Groves. In my own breaking, the lyrics offered hope that a better story would emerge from my pain, a story where goodness and beauty would overcome sorrow. And it has. It is indeed my continuing story that beauty arises from ashes, joy replaces mourning, and praise takes the place of despair. (Isaiah 61:3) From my own journey, I have come to believe that engaging with beauty is non-negotiable in the healing process. John Eldredge argues that we require exposure to beauty in equal or greater measure to our exposure to evil. We cannot, for example, consume a steady diet of nightly news without balancing our intake with doses of nature or art. We cannot, at least, without consequence to our souls.
When I speak of beauty, I do so with a broad brush. Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. Beauty to you might mean the sunrise while fishing on Lake Ozark. Beauty to another might be the sound of a newborn baby’s cry. Most will encounter beauty in some aspect of nature, biology, or creation. Regardless of where one finds it, beauty is essential to healing our souls from the brutality of trauma, loss, and the relentless daily grind of trying to make life work.
Clients show up in my office with their stories of harm, despair, and overwhelming symptoms. They want quick relief and the cure to what ails them. But our work, if it is to be transformational, must aim for more than symptom relief. When I work with clients, I am deeply interested in the possibilities that their stories of distress can hold. The “purposes written on our hearts and souls” must be mined and explored. Many treasures are found in the context of our wounds. We must do more than seek relief. We must listen to the message of our symptoms and the “beautiful secrets” embedded in the wounds they expose.
The counseling process, at its best, will enable a client to look truthfully and compassionately at his own heart. At his own story. It will provide a healing space for engaging the wound, identifying the defenses to authentic intimacy stemming from that wound, and growing the courage to surrender those defenses. The kind of counseling to which God has called me invites a client to grow her glory as it is intended to be expressed–in the fullness, messiness, and beauty of relationship. On adding to the collective beauty, Sara Groves writes:
It comes in small inspirations. It brings redemption to life and work. … It comes in loving community. It comes in helping a soul find it’s worth.
Discovering our worth happens in the reflective gaze of another. As Curt Thompson writes, “Every newborn comes into the world looking for someone looking for her.” (The Soul of Shame, p. 52). Parental love assures us that we are valued, treasured, and part of safe community. Ideally, it paves the way for us to believe in a Creator who calls us Beloved. But tragically, we often encounter the gaze of those who would belittle, demean, or ignore our heart cry for loving, secure attachment. We are wounded, most often, in the throes of relationship. And the pain is real, most especially when it is shrouded in shame.
The pain that clients bring into my office must be honored, validated, and soothed. Relief may come, but not in three easy steps. Rather, true rest comes as pain is transformed to joy in the context of relationship. Empathetic interactions prime the human heart to risk the work of growth and transformation. It is through relationship that the freedom to live with a less defended heart begins to emerge. Pain, examined in the context of love, is often the doorway to beauty.
Engaging this process is redemptive work. It is my highest honor when sitting in the therapy room. In my own story, and in the stories of many who embark on the counseling journey, it is where beauty is revealed and glory grows. May we be aware of our need for beauty. May we be aware that it surrounds us in nature, it lives hidden within our hearts as image bearers of our gorgeous God, and it beckons us to search for it in our stories.
Redemption comes in strange places, small spaces, calling out the best of who we are…This is grace, an invitation to be beautiful…