Our minds play tricks on us. We’ve had so much fun that we think if we can just stack all the same blocks in exactly the same order, we can recreate that fabulous experience. But, the next time round, we aren’t the same people. Even if we manage to stack those same blocks in that same arrangement, the experience will not be recreated: it will necessarily be something new, and we may decide it doesn’t measure up. Perhaps we teach our children to stack their blocks just so, but they are not us, they don’t relish the experience the way we’d imagined. Other times we stack–and stack and stack–those blocks, making ourselves sick because we need to step away, turn our backs, and make something new. Creation, and recreation, may require toppling unsafe or no longer helpful structures in order to build something better. Thanks, Jessie, for leading us in your vulnerability!
re:create recess #8: Jessie Colburn
As I sit back and consider this post, I can’t help but feel a little sad. These guest posts are supposed to be about “re-creation” or “recreation” in a fun and life-giving way. It’s a way to shine a light on what’s happening in our everyday lives that’s good and silly and maybe, at times, a bit unexpected. I wish I was in a place where I could’ve written about my newfound love for hiking—a practice that makes my backpacker husband look at me with eyes of “I told you so!” muddled with “Is this for real? Does she really like this or is she humoring me?” I assure you, the love is real. Being out in nature has opened my heart and mind to God’s beauty and spirit in fresh and healing ways.
But instead, I feel compelled to share about the dysfunction of re-creating in unhealthy and damaging ways—even with the best of intentions.
Have you ever had an amazing experience—so amazing, in fact, that you’d do almost anything to experience it again? Have you ever legitimately tried for a re-do?
I have. Multiple times. And truthfully, it’s never quite worked out the way I’d planned.
I’m not talking about re-reading a book that’s brought you great joy, or re-watching a favorite movie that stirs up nostalgia and good feelings. Those instances almost always invite a do-over. When we re-read or re-watch, we’re not expecting to feel the same things we did the first time around. We aren’t surprised by events or plot twists that we now know are coming; we don’t laugh as hard at the same joke because we already know the punch line.
But the knowledge of what’s in store allows us to reframe the book or film—and look for the new amidst the familiar. I love that moment when you recognize the foreshadowing of impeding doom (or romance!) that you somehow missed the first time. Or the dramatic irony that occurs when you know that two characters will embrace for the last time (especially when they don’t know it yet). Or the feeling of inclusiveness that happens among friends when a situation outside a movie theatre demands the recitation of a famous line from a shared favorite film.
This type of do-over is near and dear to me. I relish it.
But there’s another kind of re-creation that’s altogether different.
There are some things in life that aren’t meant to be re-done. In fact, trying to re-do them almost always invites heartache.
Here’s a sort of trivial example: One summer when I was in high school, my brother, best friend, and I attended a theatre camp.
We had no idea what was waiting for us. No expectations. Extremely high hopes. As the days drew nearer, all three of us were filled with joyful anticipation and high anxiety. Who would we meet? What would we do? Would we love it? In addition to the promise of fun and laughter—we’d be away from home for a whole week. That’s right—it was sleep away camp.
Does this sound like the set-up for a Disney Channel original movie? I hope so. Because that’s basically what it was. Turns out, camp was completely magical. We laughed harder than we ever laughed. Met incredible people. Learned so much about ourselves. And—gasp!—there was even a camp crush that turned into a budding relationship by the time the week was over.
When next summer rolled around, I knew that WE HAD TO DO THIS AGAIN. “Remember last year? We need to go back!” I couldn’t fill out the application fast enough. Couldn’t put it n the mail quick enough.
So, of course, we returned. Only this time, the experience was very different. Honestly, camp that next year… was pretty disappointing. And it wasn’t the curriculum or the kids or the camp itself that was lame. It was me. (By the way, did I mention that this was an IMPROV theatre camp? The irony of trying to re-create an IMPROV experience, which, by its very nature is spontaneous, is not lost on me. But, I digress.)
My expectations were so high for the next year that there was no room for reality in the daydream I’d re-created. And as a result, the memory of the first camp experience started becoming better and better in the wake of my disappointment.
Sadly, I don’t just do this with camp experiences. Sometimes I do this with relationships. Often times, I do this with my own childhood. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to re-create experiences for my kids that I’ve remembered as “magical” or “life-changing”—only to be rebuffed and disappointed by my kids’ lack of enthusiasm.
For example, I played a lot of soccer when I was growing up. Like a lot. Like I started when I was five years old and played straight through until I was sixteen years old. NO breaks. No other sports. I played on multiple teams at the same time. I loved it. I lived and breathed it. It was my thing. And a big marker of my identity in my fledgling teen years.
I’m now in my thirties. My soccer days have long passed. But now I have little people who look like me, and obviously, they will like the same things that I like, right? Wrong.
My older daughter had recently started gymnastics and, so, I was feeling guilty about not having an activity for my little one. (We’ll come back to the insanity that is mommy-guilt in another article.) Naturally, I signed her up for Mommy & Me soccer! What could be better? Being sporty! Active! Outside!
We went to the Sporting Goods store. We bought shin guards and cleats and a pink ball and a bunch of athletic wear. We went to our first class and… it was a complete fail.
Not only did she hate it, but the coach made a point of telling the whole class that we DON’T need cleats at this age. And he even pulled me aside after to say, “Um, sorry, but, could you not bring the pink ball next time? I have all the equipment already, and the kids’ll just fight over yours if you bring it again.”
Greeeeeeeat. Turns out I’m that mom.
So, for ten weeks, I forced her to go to this stupid class (because I was determined to bond with her over an activity that I loved in my youth). And for ten weeks, she put up with it—not because she loves me and wants me to be happy, but because we went to the coffee shop right after and she got to have cookies and chocolate milk.
I guess, in the end, it wasn’t a complete loss. Although she may hate soccer forever, in my heart of hearts, I know she enjoyed the special mommy-time. And thankfully, I’ve now learned her preferred “activity” is the park swings.
Unfortunately, it’s not always the happy times I’m anxious to re-create.
If I’m being honest, a lot of the time I re-create or re-do the hurt I’ve experienced. Do you know what this is called?
It’s when you hold on to feelings of being wronged or hurt (whether real or imaginary) in such a tangible way that, quite literally, you re-live your pain. Over and over.
This is not a healthy practice and I don’t recommend it. When we give resentment a foothold, it can take over our hearts and minds. Take this blog post as an example. Here was a chance to share about the things I take delight in! But my little heart has been so infected with this weed, I’m taking this precious time to talk about something so yucky. But there’s a reason for this. I’m hopeful that by sharing my experience, I can serve to enlighten others about how self-destructive this practice can be.
One of the many tricky things about resentment is that it’s often linked to unexpressed pain.
Somewhere deep inside, at least for me, I fear rejection or being disliked. Rather than expressing the truth about how I feel (or how a person has hurt me), I keep quiet. Letting the bad feelings grow. Letting my anger fester. Venting to people that aren’t those who’ve wronged me. And so the cycle continues. I carry around this bitterness—not confronting the person(s) who (in my eyes) has wronged me. And as a result, I look for additional transgressions in future interactions to bolster and justify my pain.
Much like my failed second camp experience, in essence, I continually re-live and re-do the hurt. And in my mind, it’s almost always bigger and more unfair than what actually happened. It’s like I’ve created this alternate reality that ultimately exists to fuel my anger. And for what?
Anger is so seductive. It’s one of the few emotions that lets us feel powerful and in control—when in reality, we experience the exact opposite. When anger takes hold of me, I’m its slave. There’s a flash of power, as it makes most people (especially children) stop, take notice, and try to make it stop. But all I’ve really accomplished in that moment is managing to hurt feelings… and often they belong to the people I love most.
The thing about anger and pain is that these emotions need to be recognized. Even when we stuff them down and try to keep them under wraps, they find a way of seeping out. Think about your physical pain for a moment. If you touch a hot stove and get burned, you’ll cry out! You’ll look for relief. You’ll take proper precaution next time, but you’ll also give the wound the treatment it deserves.
I think our emotional pain is similar. If we don’t acknowledge it and try to make it better, there’s no chance for real healing. In fact, the more we ignore our emotional pain—much like physical pain—the greater the risk of infection, complication, and further trauma.
So how do we break this cycle of re-doing? Of trying to capture past joy (or pain) at our own peril? Of re-creating in an unhealthy way?
Actually, I think it’s similar to how we re-do joy with books and movies. We don’t look to physically re-make the experience. That time has come and gone, for better or worse. Instead, we aim to learn from it. If we can shift our expectations, we can let our past re-shape and re-mold our present into something new amidst the familiar. We can take baby steps toward healing, and slowly watch our past pain melt away into forgiveness, reconciliation, and ultimately, redemption.
And so, I say to you—readers of the interweb, a place that feels both personal and anonymous—I am in therapy. I’m trying to learn from my past. I’m trying give myself permission to feel. To be honest with myself and those around me. There is a way to be kind and still speak your truth.
I’ll admit, I’m still learning how to speak mine. At times, I wish I could just magically be rid of this resentment. This thief in the night. This robber of joy. This sinful behavior. But the hard truth about being an adult is that sometimes you have to work for it. Even when it’s hard. Even when you don’t want to. Even when old habits feel more comfortable and “OK for now.” It’s in these times of critical self-talk and self-doubt that I remember the ancient wisdom of a well-known Chinese proverb: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
I am on a journey toward healing. Toward forgiveness… of others and myself. I will get there, in time. For I know that God, who began the good work within me, will continue his work until it is finally finished.
God’s blessings on your journey.
Jessie Colburn is wife to Chris, mom to Kate & Charlotte, and a general lover of books, friends, family, and wine (not necessarily in that order). You can usually find her on a hike with her kids, in her kitchen preparing a meal, or near the teen fiction section at her local independent book store. While most of her time is spent raising her babies, she’s also a freelance children’s book editor. Her favorite activities include laughing, eating, reading, and talking.