No sacred cows. Name the elephants in the room.
Come on! Every community, congregation, family or network I have known has at least one sacred cow. Things that must be held, maintained, kept, preserved … you get it. No matter how devouring, wasted, rotting, decaying or destroying that thing may be, the cow must be kept, fed, saved. It’s an allusion to the biblical story of people worshipping an idol in golden, bovine form. A sacred cow carries weight, emotion, and sometimes bears anger, especially if the cow comes under threat, perceived or real.
Think about the object that has “always been,” or the monument that has “always stood,” or the tradition that has “always kept” meaning for a community, family or culture.
For some, the cow may, in practice, be neutral — it’s just a cow. But the beast may be death-dealing and life-sucking — stamping, stomping, trampling. Or the cow may bring positive energy and growth — milk, meat and hide.
Sometimes, we need to identify a sacred cow and the role it plays in our lives. Is it worth preserving a place of honor? Or is it time to take it down from its pedestal … permanently?
Early elementary Sunday school taught me about sacred cows. On the other hand, I have not always known the expression “elephant in the room,” even though I have always sensed its reality and gravity.
Elephants are unavoidable. Somehow, though, people in all our people-y-ness work very intently to convince ourselves that we have no awareness of an elephant. We can and do look around it, avoid it, dance across it, crawl under it and pole-vault ourselves over the pachyderm. It can be a topic, an issue or controversy. Naming the elephant is vital to health and well-being.
A mentor of mine pointed out the elephant in her family system as the novel coronavirus began to spread across this country. Naming the elephant meant a greater level of stability and peace for a family in the midst of turmoil. Inspired, I realized that our household had an equally enormous elephant, but no one had claimed the language to identify it.
Long ago, I learned the power of words. So, I called out the elephant last weekend. At this point, I cannot know if naming the issue will make a lasting difference. But I can tell you this: It positioned me to release resentment. I laid it all out. I voiced what had caused me a life-limiting amount of pain for the last year. Deciding I could no longer carry the burden of it all, I put it down, and I invited everyone else to do the same.
Unable to tell you if I did it well or not, I only know that time and hearts will tell. One lesson washed over me in the moment of exposure. Not one of us carries pain that is greater than another. Likewise, not one of us has more love to give than another. All of us have pain. All of us love. And I refuse to allow pain to overwhelm my capacity for love. Because Love is bigger than any elephant …