by Carole Duff
In 1955, Jill Jackson-Miller and her husband, song-writer Sy Miller, wrote the song, “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” Jackson-Miller’s lyrics were inspired by her coming to faith after the failure of her first marriage a decade before, and by her wish to share the peace she’d found in Him. Initially written for and sung by a children’s choir, the song has been performed by many artists worldwide and is a Christmas favorite even today.
Like Jackson-Miller, I came to faith when my first marriage failed. Yet I think it’s significant that she gave the gift of her experience not to an adult choir but to children. We all experience loss, rejection, and disruption in life, but perhaps the hardest wounds to heal are those from childhood.
In Peace in the Last Third of Life: A Handbook of Hope for Boomers, retired pastor Paul Zahl, one of the founders of Mockingbird ministries, wrote about the peace and hope that come from healing one’s past wounds: “The pain of early loss does not fade. The pain of early rejection does not fade. The pain of early (and to the child, inexplicable) disruption does not fade. Those things, those sufferings, stay with you. In fact, they are almost more powerful now than when they actually happened.”
The early wound Zahl carried was a terrible break-up with his high school girlfriend during college. For months, he felt overwhelmed by the loss then buried it, resolving never to think about it again. Life went on. He graduated college, married, went to graduate school, became a father, and pastored for several years. But every-so-often, thoughts about that early, painful rejection would return.
When his mother died, the old wound resurfaced in earnest. Sitting in the congregation during a Sunday church service, he saw a vision of two young people dressed for the senior prom. One of the figures gestured a farewell then dissolved. Immediately, he heard the 1972 song “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” by Looking Glass that had come out during his break-up. With that, the vision faded; the song ended; and the power of the wound was gone.
The early wound I buried was from an inexplicable disruption. When my sisters and I were children, our mother was shot and beaten during a random home invasion. Although my mother survived—she lived to the age of 96—my five-year-old self’s pain and helplessness remained with me when I researched, remembered, and wrote about the event nearly sixty years later.
Unlike Zahl’s experience, the power of my wound did not suddenly dissolve. For me, healing came slowly. Peace deepened when I examined my younger, unbelieving self in the light of faith. Now, following the way, the truth, and the light, I am better able to avoid shame, guilt, anger, self-pity, bitterness, and cynicism. In Him, I’m better equipped to make peace with others.
In his September 14, 2020 reflection, Franciscan priest Richard Rohr wrote, “…we can only lead people on the spiritual journey as far as we ourselves have gone. We simply can’t talk about it beyond that. That’s why the best thing we can do for people is to stay on the journey ourselves. We transform people to the degree we have been transformed.”
To be transformed, we must go into the belly of the whale, Rohr stated in an earlier reflection. “Unless we face a major disaster like the death of a friend or spouse or the loss of a marriage or job, we usually will not go there on our own accord.” Even in the face of disaster, we try to fix, control, or change events instead of changing ourselves or, more accurately, asking God to change us.
Healing is a long journey, Rohr stated in his 2011 classic Falling Upward. “If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it—usually to those closest to us: our family, our neighbors, our co-workers, and, invariably, the most vulnerable, our children.” Perhaps this explains some of the transmissions our ‘friends’ post on social media today.
As Jill Jackson-Miller, Paul Zahl, Richard Rohr, and I learned, the on-going journey of healing is the worthiest of all endeavors but is not for the faint of heart. Falling upward means suffering—joyous but suffering all the same. If we let it begin with us, the peace of God will transform us. Once transformed—and only then—may we become instruments of His peace on earth.
So be it. Amen and Amen.
Per Gen regular contributor Carole Duff is a veteran teacher, flutist, and writer of narrative nonfiction. She posts weekly to her long-standing blog Notes from Vanaprastha, has written for The Perennial Gen, Streetlight Magazine’s Blog, and Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog. She is working on a book titled Wisdom Builds Her House: A Memoir About Finding Grace in the Third Stage of Life. Carole lives in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband Keith Kenny, also a writer, and three overly-friendly dogs. You can find her website here, and her Twitter feed here.