Excerpted from Walking into Walls, copyright 2011 by Stephen Arterburn. Published by Worthy Publishing, Brentwood, TN; www.worthypublishing.com. Used by permission.

A friend told me the story of a bird that wandered down a chimney and into a family residence one night. Morning came and the family discovered the terrified creature. Trapped by walls and apparently threatened by monsters suddenly appearing in the room, the panicked bird flew toward the morning sunlight streaming through the big picture window. But it crashed into the wall of glass and fell back into the room. The family tried to catch the bird and release it harmlessly through the door, but each time it would flee in panic and fly again toward the sunrise, only to hit the same wall of glass. It happened again and again because the poor creature simply could not see the barrier that blocked it from reaching what looked like glorious freedom.

Walls of Our Own

The first reaction to this story is to think that bird should have learned a lesson the first time it hit the glass. Why would it keep flying into the same barrier again and again? But, quite frankly, many of us often walk into walls, back off, collect ourselves, and then proceed to walk right back into them again. These are walls of guilt and shame, anger and bitterness, worry and regret, and fear and anxiety.

I have developed relationships in business, ministry, and my personal life that felt like prison walls. Some of those relational prisons were optional, but I chose to live with them. In my per­sonal life, sometimes others chose to end their relationships with me, leaving me walled off inside my pitiful little cell of shame, regret, and loneliness.

I could have changed, but I kept myself locked up with beliefs that barred me from doing so. Ever said any of these things to yourself?

  • “This is not my fault.”
  • “My parents just didn’t get it.”
  • “Nobody can help me but me."
  • “I know how to deal with this on my own.”
  • “I am not the one with the problem here.”
  • “How could this person hurt me, knowing what a victim of others I have been?”
  • “You have to be crazy to see a counselor.”
  • “Anyone would feel this way if he or she knew what I have been through.”
  • “When the person who hurt me makes a move toward resolu­tion, I am prepared to respond, but not until then.”
  • “I’m so guilty that God can never forgive me, so I’m now on my own.”

I had a lot of other erroneous beliefs rolling around in my head that became barrier walls, keeping me from a life of free­dom, purpose, and meaning. Yet I kept these beliefs in front of me, encountering them again and again. Each encounter became more painful than the pain that would have been involved in tearing down those walls and moving into freedom. While in college I thought I had made so much progress with myself that I should make a career out of helping others. The real truth was, I had no idea how little progress I had made, how far I had to go, and how much more pain I would have to endure.

Potty Training

In 1977 I began my studies in counseling at a seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. For the first time I looked forward to every day of school. Very quickly I was involved in doctoral courses and providing counseling under the supervision of doctoral students. I loved it and believed, as I still do, that I had found my purpose: to help people with emotional and mental problems.

As I progressed I wanted to gain experience with those strug­gling with the worst of psychiatric diagnoses. The only job I could find was as an attendant on a psychiatric ward, and I took it with great excitement and dedication. My job description was to help in any way needed. That meant counseling a newly admitted patient or cleaning toilets. In my ascent from custo­dian to chief therapist, I saw nearly every kind of emotional and mental damage. Much of it was inflicted by cruel and heartless perpetrators who ripped normalcy out of patients’ lives and left them with scarred souls.