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The only way through, is through. 

I’m told a brave woman once spoke those words – a woman who lost her spouse to suicide, and eventually, lost her own life to cancer. Her best friend said this was one of her mantras, a phrase she repeated often as she fought (and won) the battle for joy.

“The only way through, is through,” she’d say.

Recently, I found myself quoting her while on the phone with another woman. I had no words of my own, having never walked through the particular sorrow we were discussing. So I borrowed words from beyond the grave, words from a beautiful soul I’ve never even met. 

This is the nature of courage. Like a human pyramid, we climb onto the shoulders of those who’ve gone before us, drawing strength from their survival. If I’m honest, for most of my life, I’ve been the lightweight on the top of the pyramid – fully dependent on the stronger people below me. I still call my mom and dad whenever life gets hard. My best friend, too.

Hold me up! I don’t actually say that, but they do. They strengthen me with their scars. They promise me this suffering will not destroy me, and they pray me back to hope. As my kids grow, I can feel them testing the strength of my shoulders, and at times it terrifies me. How did I end up on the bottom of this pyramid? How did I become a pillar of support for such precious human beings? The stakes seem so high. I want to be rock solid, but I feel alarmingly fragile. 


The Power of Emotional Containment

Through therapy, I’m learning that parents are to be a container for their children’s emotions. We’re not supposed to ignore their big feelings, quickly “fix” them, suppress them, or absorb them. We’re supposed to contain them, which means we provide a safe space for our kids to feel everything they need to feel … even when those feelings trigger our own fear, rage, or hysteria. 

This is the real issue – in order to be strong enough to support someone else, you have to be strong enough to confront your own junk. You have to be honest about the way their suffering sparks your buried pain. You have to be willing to face that pain, to do the hard work of processing it, believing there’s something beautiful on the other side. 

The only way through, is through. 

Pain can’t be circumnavigated. It has to be faced with the power and presence of Jesus. Once you’ve walked that dark path, and lived to boast in Christ’s faithfulness, it’s a little less scary to watch your child set off on their own painful path. You can’t promise it won’t hurt. But you can promise they won’t walk alone, they won’t be destroyed, and they won’t be the same on the other side. 


The Secret to Being Strong Enough

By the way, this whole “containment” thing doesn’t work both ways. (That’s another thing I learned in therapy.) We contain our kids’ emotions, but they shouldn’t be responsible for containing ours. They shouldn’t have to stuff their feelings because Mom or Dad can’t handle it. They get to be on the top of the pyramid – drawing stability from our steadfastness.

Even if we have to fake it. 

This is not something I learned in therapy; this I learned through trial by fire: Sometimes as you’re becoming who you want to be in the future, you have to fake it in the present. I’ll never forget holding my daughter late one night as she sobbed over a terrible situation beyond our control. In her deep pain she began to name some of my own greatest fears. I could feel the pyramid crumbling – feel my own panic threatening to consume.

So I faked it. 

I squeezed her as tightly as I could, and with total confidence I said, “You are going to be just fine. All of this is so, so normal. It’s okay to be heartbroken. You cry as long as you want. God’s got you, and so do I.” 

Meanwhile, deep down I was begging God, “Please, let it be so! Make me strong. Make me who she needs me to be.” 

Maybe that’s faking it. Or maybe that’s just what life looks like in the middle of the pyramid – holding our kids up, as God holds us. We won’t walk the path perfectly, and we don’t have to. We just have to keep trusting Jesus, and keep walking.

The only way through, is through. 


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