It is necessary for me to fight the urge to write about each episode of This is Us. Although God is rarely mentioned, I discover ribbons of truth interwoven into every episode. The authenticity and genuine growth of the characters is unlike anything I have seen in a TV show before. I encounter truth in their interactions and truth in their experience of a beautiful, broken family.
One aspect I have particularly appreciated is the way they show that past hurts influence our current perspective of the world. The viewers see glimpses from different points in the characters lives and we begin to understand why different experiences crush them or fill them with joy or anger them. Through beautiful storytelling, we see, perhaps clearer than the characters do themselves, why they respond in different ways. In a brief flash, we are shown a moment of their life from twenty years earlier and then see how they respond to something similar as adults. They don’t respond entirely as we would expect, yet we are able to see how their choices are colored by past experience.
As the audience, we have questions about what happened in the missing years that we haven’t been shown, but I appreciate that there are few nice, easy answers for the characters. Situations aren’t simple. The correct move or response isn’t always obvious. Life isn’t always clear and we don’t always grasp how the past has a hold on our present. Yet This is Us attempts to show that facing our past, with all the hurts and wounds, seems necessary if we desire to move forward in wholeness and freedom.
Or perhaps that is what I read into it. Either way, it seems relevant in my life. Over the past few years, I have been going to spiritual direction and that poor priest has watched me dissolve into tears innumerable times. Sometimes it is because of a situation that recently happened, but many times it is due to something I thought I was “over” but was not.
The past is a powerful force. Our negative experiences are real, valid experiences and yet they should not be given the freedom to wreak havoc in our present life. Running away from these moments doesn’t transform the past nor does burying them deep within and trying to forget them. It is only in confronting them, in the light of the Father’s love, that we release ourselves from the chains our wounds can form.
For years, I didn’t confront past hurts because I convinced myself they weren’t “that big of a deal.” I would look at my life and see the many, many good things that were a part of it. It seemed that I shouldn’t have lingering hurts because I had it much better than many people. I grew up surrounded by a loving, faithful family with an extensive line of aunts, uncles, and cousins. Never have I known what it is like to be hungry, homeless, or unable to reach out to anyone for help. I attended college, traveled a bit, and got a job in my desired field right out of school. What huge hurts could I possibly have that needed healing? My life was filled with abundant blessings.
Despite these manifold gifts, I eventually had to acknowledge that many times over those years I had been hurt, intentionally and unintentionally. Telling myself that it wasn’t a big deal didn’t eliminate the pain. Instead, I just felt weak for experiencing it yet never dealt with it so that I could get better. My spiritual director spent a long while before I could accept that if a situation moved my heart in some way, it was important, even if in the grand scheme of things it was quite small. Oddly, I had to be given permission to admit that my heart felt things that were sometimes inconvenient. But when I felt the freedom to recognize the hurt, I discovered that I didn’t have to fight my own heart so much.
Perhaps this is why the recent episode with Kevin struck me as painful and beautiful. (Spoiler alert! Not a major one, just wanted to throw that out there for major This is Us fans who don’t keep up with the episodes.) Kneeling in the front lawn, he breaks down as he says that he is in pain and needs someone to help him. The tearful face as he rocks back and forth made me think of a baby or young child who needs the comfort and wisdom of a parent. For Kevin, being “Number One” meant always plunging forward, taking the risk, living life in a bold way but not acknowledging his pain or wounds. He masked it with fame, women, overconfidence, drugs, and alcohol. The dizzying downward spiral he experiences is largely the fruit of not giving himself permission to feel or recognize the significance of what his heart experiences.
I’m convinced that the most pressing reform we should have culturally is a reform of the heart. Should people desire to kill, they will use any means necessary. Should we desire to overindulge, we will, regardless of the size of the soda or posted calorie lists. We can psychologize and rationalize, but it won’t get to what needs to be formed. New laws, new products, new anything won’t change our culture as much as the internal heart reform that we need.
Jesus gives us new hearts, taking away our old stony hearts to give us hearts of flesh. This changes everything. It doesn’t eliminate any pain we may experience, but it puts it in perspective. With a renewed past, we can step into new experiences with freedom from the wounds that enslaved us. Healing doesn’t happen all at once and it is often a painful experience. Bit by bit, the work of healing helps restore our lives and gives us greater peace and joy. This process of healing is something I am hopeful that This is Us will tackle as beautifully as they did the breaking point.