Unpacking Boxes (A Journey Launched, Part 1)

The following is one of four essays that appeared in the Jubilate Deo, the newspaper of the Diocese of South Carolina, in 2006 and 2007. The publication of these pieces launched my desire and need to write about my spiritual journey.

Unpacking Boxes

By Amy Watson Smith, Department of Christian Faith Formation, Diocese of SC

Ouch. I put the book down. He’s got to be crazy if he thinks I am going to do this! This was my first reaction to reading the book, How People Grow: What the Bible Reveals about Personal Growth written by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. The ‘he’ I referred to was Peter Rothermel, coordinator for the Department of Christian Faith Formation of the Diocese of SC. I had just accepted a position (late July 2005) with the diocese as the Administrative Assistant for the department. Peter had given me a copy of the book and encouraged me to read it in preparation for a conference our department would present in March 2006. The ‘ouch’ mentioned above was my reaction to the few things that surfaced after reading the first few chapters of How People Grow. I promptly put the book down. A month passed before I had the nerve to pick it up again.  This isn’t going to be quite as painless as I thought.

Over the next few months, I moved through the book at a snail’s pace, reading one chapter and then putting the book away for a month or more. I was familiar with the authors, trusted their reputations, and believed the material to be theologically orthodox and biblically based. The text was engaging and the case studies allowed me to glimpse how their principles applied to real life. Yet I just couldn’t seem to get through the book.  By early January, I was beginning to panic. The team for the upcoming conference was hard at work and plans were moving forward at a brisk pace. And I still hadn’t gotten through the book! What was wrong with me?

Finally it became clear to me what was causing me so much trouble. From the first pages of this book, Drs. Cloud and Townsend stress that the growth process is meant to be done with other people. God did not intend for us to grow alone. He wants us to be in relationship with him and with others. I had been leaving out a crucial piece of the process—the body of Christ. The trouble was that I was a self-proclaimed, self-sufficient, independent, I-don’t-need-anyone’s-help kind of person. Obviously this was not good news to me. But I didn’t see any way out of this situation. It was my job, after all, and Dr. Townsend would be arriving in Charleston in just a few short months. I had to finish the book and get on with planning the conference. I needed some help!

Well, it would be nice to say that I turned to my dearest, closest friend for help, but in reality it was someone with which I had only just gotten to know. Still I felt that God had brought us together for a purpose, so I took a leap of faith. I asked her to read How People Grow and to meet with me regularly to talk about and process what we were reading. Thankfully she took a pretty big leap and agreed. While this may not seem like such a big deal for some people, it was a HUGE step for me. I did not like admitting that I was over my head and needed help. The miraculous thing is that God immediately did something transformational in me.

I liken the experience of going through this growth process to the process of cleaning out a closet or a room full of boxes. My room is full of boxes—boxes full of memories, experiences, lessons learned, things I have done, and things done to me.  While I know what a few of these boxes contain, the contents of many are a mystery. They are all nicely sealed up—and frankly, that is the way I had intended to keep them. But something began to happen to me. As I began to develop this new friendship through the growth process outlined in How People Grow, I began to open up some of my boxes. I realized that some of them contained things that I wanted to keep—memories or experiences that I didn’t want to discard, sins that need to be forgiven, lessons that needed to be learned. I began to take the contents out of each box, one-by-one, carefully turning them over, assessing and evaluating, with the help and encouragement of my new friend, whether they were treasures or trash. I realized that some of the things in these boxes didn’t even belong to me and needed to be returned to their rightful owners.

Intellectually I knew that God wanted me to bring these things out of the darkness and into the light. But I imagined that this light would be like that given off by a single, bare light bulb: harsh and condemning. What I came to learn, however, is that the light he asks us to walk in is more like that given off by a lamp covered with a shade: soft, comforting, yet bright enough to reveal the truth. When I began to unpack my boxes, the contents were brought into the healing, loving, saving light of Jesus Christ—reflected through the warmth, acceptance, and compassion of my new friend. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1: 9).

Three months into this journey, I can honestly say that I am a different person—truly a new creation.. As I continue to experience this new, deeper, more honest relationship with my “growth partner,” I realize that I want more of my established relationships to grow in this way. This experience is having a ripple effect in every area of my life.

I still have many more boxes to go through. But—through the grace of God, the love of Jesus, and the support of the body of Christ—I am now able to look at some things that had been hidden away for far too long. And I am even taking some of them out, putting them on the shelves of my life and integrating them into this new creation—the person that God wants me to be. Praise be to God.

March 2006