My mother-in-law stood at the top of the stairs holding my daughter’s hand. Before they could come down, I said, “Hold up, let me tell you what happened the other day.”
I jogged up the stairs and began explaining how my daughter had almost slipped down the stairs two weeks before. But I wasn’t content to just tell the story – no, I needed to re-enact it.
I stood at the top and demonstrated how Daniela slipped off the highest step, almost losing her balance – except at this point, I actually did lose my balance. The next thing I knew, I was flailing down the stairs and careened to a halt with both sets of toes jammed into the doorposts at the bottom.
My daughter was crying at the top of the stairs, and I feared she had been hurt in the kerfuffle. But then I realized she was crying because on my way down, I had somehow pulled her Easter basket off her arm and dragged it down with me.
So there I was, sprawled out at the bottom of the stairs, aching all over, holding a two-year-old girl’s Easter basket, and trying to play it cool while my mother-in-law asked if I was okay. I felt so foolish.
In the days following my embarrassing spill, I realized that wasn’t the only time I’ve hurt myself during a well-meaning reenactment.
Although I haven’t done it physically, there have been times in my life where I’ve been through painful experiences – a high school rejection, a workplace disagreement, or a family conflict – and I’ve chosen to retell the story in vivid detail, sometimes repeatedly. I never feel quite right afterwards.
It’s remarkable how retelling those stories (usually in the name of “venting”) brings the experiences back to life. The emotions well up, the frustrations return, and in no time, we’re emotionally careening down the stairs and dragging someone else with us. It’s unhealthy, it’s painful, and it very rarely produces anything good.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t talk about the wounds we’ve suffered. It can actually be healthy when it’s done in the spirit of dealing with the issues in our own hearts, rather than for the purpose of raising our lingering offenses with those who have hurt us.
Granted, repeatedly rehashing our offenses offers the cheap significance that comes with being a victim; but working through the past and moving forward brings us to a place of clarity where we can “forget those things which are behind and reach forward to those things which are ahead.” (Philippians 3:13-14).
We’ll always be able to find someone who will give us attention when we want to reenact the painful things we’ve experienced, but we only have ourselves to blame when we look like a childish fool at the bottom of our emotional staircases.