The Great Undoing

By Crystal Elwell
In Hope & Healing
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The Great Undoing is what I call the span of time that has been the last 10 years of my life. It is where God has been correcting lies I have believed about him and about myself, and giving me wisdom and understanding about his grace, mercy and loyal love.

The first phase of this started when I was introduced to the enneagram. I took a free test online and when I got my results back, it was as if someone had been reading my diary or doing a case study of my life. I was almost in disbelief, but it was also oddly comforting to have answers to questions I think I had only ever internally or subconsciously asked. The section of the results that struck me the most was “Sixes as Children Often”, which then listed out:

  • Are friendly, likeable, and dependable
  • Are anxious and hypervigilant; anticipate danger
  • Look to groups or authorities to protect them
  • Are neglected or abused, come from unpredictable or alcoholic families, and/or take on the fearfulness of an overly anxious parent

The enneagram is a tool that can help us understand our motivations, core beliefs (about ourselves and others), and the unconscious patterns (or as I say, default mode) that drive our behavior. This tool shed light for me on the parts of my life I had invited God into, allowing his beautiful redemptive work to take root. And in the same way it revealed the unredeemed areas that I kept closed off, possibly for self-preservation. What I’ve learned most from this tool is how to use it to sometimes gauge where I am emotionally and spiritually, a sort of litmus test for my reactions and responses. When I am in a healthy state, I tend to be more supportive and grounded; I can hear things about myself or about situations without doom-looping or making misguided assumptions. In an unhealthy state I swing from support to suspicion. This causes me to be overly critical, exhausted from worry, untrusting and controlling, sometimes even steamrolling the people or processes I have worked to build up. I have a caring circle of people that includes my spouse, select friends, and my therapist, who allow me to wrestle within this phase and beyond, to undo the mixed-up beliefs and the negative patterns I have adopted since childhood.

The second phase of The Great Undoing came at my oldest daughter’s 10th birthday (she is now 18). My parents came into town to surprise her, and the next 24 hours were filled with love and laughter, fun and games, and even more surprises. The biggest surprise happened the following night at her birthday dinner. This is when I learned that my father had been drinking all day. Not just all day, he had been on a 7-day binge by the time he arrived at our home the day prior. This day has marked my life and our family in more ways than I can write about in a single blog post. It was during this season that I was introduced to the concept of “Adult Child of an Alcoholic.” So much in my life began to make sense as I learned more and more about it. The approval-seeking that followed me from school into my career, the low self-esteem that guided me towards bad relationships and bad decisions, and then there were the spiritual implications. I had a fear of authority that translated into a fear of God, watching and waiting not for his goodness but for his swift judgement and inevitable discipline. I was even guarded and prone to isolation within my quiet times (time alone with the Lord), rather than leaning into the beauty of silence and solitude as a sacred practice to experience and delight in the presence of God. Utilizing the gift of therapy and more specifically, EMDR, these are things that I became fully aware of during this phase and am still undoing in my life.

I am currently living in a new phase of The Great Undoing that started during the pandemic. It has been supported by stepping foot into the ministry of Recovery. I’m learning to practice repentance as a way of daily life and accept hardship as a pathway to peace. St. John of the Cross in his book The Dark Night of the Soul captures beautifully what this season has been for me. He explains that the dark night is an experience in which the joys and comfort of spirituality are taken away and we experience a kind of despair that is like darkness. Wisdom and Maturity come when we press on through that darkness in faith, continuing to seek God even in the absence of the comforts we’ve known before. Discovering something richer and deeper on the other side, something less dependent on those comforts. Beautifully broken is how I am emerging from this season.

If I can sum up all that I have learned, felt, and experienced these last several years I think it would be best done by sharing a passage that I have clung to and return to time and time again. A gift I believe the Lord gave me to help comfort and guide me through HIS Great Undoing in my life. I pray it comforts and encourages you as well.

I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed. I remember it all—oh, how well I remember— the feeling of hitting the bottom. But there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left.God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks. It’s a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from God. It’s a good thing when you’re young to stick it out through the hard times.When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence. Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions: Wait for hope to appear. Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face. The “worst” is never the worst.Why? Because the Master won’t ever walk out and fail to return. If he works severely, he also works tenderly. His stockpiles of loyal love are immense.

Lamentations 3:19-33 (MSG)

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