Learning from Cobwebs

I heard a story back when I was a freshman in high school. It was one of those stories that stick with you- one that comes to mind over the years as it seemed to always be applicable. It wasn’t until very recently that I stopped to realize exactly how much this single story had actually shaped my entire approach to life.  (And, come to think of it, I’ve never really been bothered by spiders either.) Here’s the story:

There was a church who regularly offered a midweek prayer service. It was a time when this was fairly common practice, and the church was known to have a decent turnout every week. One of those who would attend each week was an older man; a member of the deacon board. This man was well-respected, both in the church and in the community, and was known to be a fount of wisdom for the younger generations. And so, everyone generally looked past his extremely verbose prayers when it was his turn at these services. To the adults, his words meant much, but it often took him quite awhile to say much of the same things every week. To the children, this was borderline torture, and they spent each of the nearly ten minutes of this prayer anticipating which part of his nearly verbatim prayer would come next, mouthing the words along with the deacon, and taking side bets on whether he would deviate from his script that week. (Ok, I added that last part, but I could totally see it.)

One particular week, the old deacon was really going strong and had gotten to one of his favorite parts. “And Father, please come into these hearts of ours and clean out all of the cobwebs in our lives. Let there be no trace of them as we go about our week…”

It was at this point that one particularly thoughtful young boy decided that this attempt must not be working well if the old man had to keep praying the same thing, so he offered what he thought to be a better solution and blurted out, “Don’t do it, God! Kill the spider!”

The common definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. And all too often, the thing we repeat is treating the symptoms of our problems. Do I have anger issues? Let me try to not get angry. Do I have a drug or alcohol addiction? Let me try to remove the temptations and see if that fixes things. Am I struggling with depression? Let me treat it with pills or muscle through it with a fake smile plastered on my face. Am I drawn to pornography? Let me use some website blockers.

Our lives are little more than a series of cause and effect. Sometimes those effects are a result of someone else’s actions, other times they’re directly related to something that we’ve said or done. But everything, everything has repercussions. Both good and bad. And for every symptom, there is always a source.  What I learned all those years ago about the spider still holds true in everything today. I can spend all of my time treating the symptoms, fighting the effects, and battling through the addictions. Or, I can dig deeper, look into the pain and heartache and shame of my past and learn what the source of my problems are. Because they’re always there.

So, this is what I learned from the cobwebs. When people ask me to help them with their problems, I never promise them that I am able. I’m not licensed to deal with people’s addictions. I’m not secure enough in my own troubles to offer a way for them to avoid theirs. But I do promise that if they’re willing, I’ll help them cut through the crap that the world has been throwing at them, through the lies they’ve been telling themselves, and through the walls of defenses they’ve built up so that they can see the clear source of their pain and torment.

Many times, they’re a result of what someone has done to them. Sometimes, what others have said. Other times, we see that we’ve created a destructive path for ourselves where our “problematic” symptoms are actually our own coping mechanisms to avoid dealing with our true problems- we don’t like who we’ve become and rather than dealing with that, we dose ourselves with whatever placebo anesthetic we can find to dull the pain.

But, as long as the spider still lives on, the cobwebs will continue to return. Kill the spider.

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