For a long time, I have liked Johnny Cash’s music. “A Boy Named Sue” was a particular favorite.
I liked it because it talked of a boy that was maladjusted and who overcame his hardship by having “his fists get hard and wits got keen.” He was no victim of bullies, that’s for sure.
The end result in the song is that the singer and his father come to a mutual understanding about the past and have a different relationship moving forward.
But the end of the song has always perplexed me. How could the results of a lifetime of trauma be wiped away in such a short period of time? But alas, it is a 3 minute song and not a tutorial on healing from trauma.
Fast forward to a few months ago.
I’ve been reading a book by Henry Cloud called Changes That Heal. From this book, I gained an insight into the Johnny Cash song referenced above.
In that book, Dr. Cloud speaks about what he calls “one-down relationships.” Rather than a lengthy explanation of what this means (you can click on the link above and purchase the book to better understand the concept), I will give you a short version.
My understanding of the concept is that some of us function in life as though we are inferior to others and need to earn their acceptance and approval to fell like we are ok.
The cure for this is to begin to function as an adult that does not need anyone’s validation or permission.
I am sad that I am in my mid 60’s and I am just now learning about this. The fact that I hadn’t learned this has caused confusion at best and emotional harm at worst in my relationships.
I now realize that this has been one of the generational sins in my family of origin. The system in which I grew up worked very hard at maintaining one-down relationships so that some members of my family could maintain their power and control over others. Nothing more about my familial relationships needs to be written in this post; I am still working through my family of origin issues.
But as I was walking this morning and thinking about “A Boy Named Sue,” I realized that there is a very healthy aspect to how the song ends. In the end, Sue ends up moving from a one-down relationship with his father to a peer-to-peer relationship. This is a healthy transition.
I like the song even more now, as it validates a lesson that I am learning and need to fully apply in my life. I need to move into a peer-to-peer relationship with all other adults, including my parents.
I am not to be in any one-down relationships with other humans, period.
My only motivation in sharing this is that I suspect that many others struggle with this same issue. Christ died so that we might have freedom from the things that bind us in unhealthy patterns. You and I have the freedom (and the responsibility) to become adults and function in peer-to-peer relationships.
But I am reminded that Paul gives us a caution in how we experience and express our freedom. With this verse I will end this post.
“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.”
Galatians 5:13–15, ESV
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Used with permission from Mark H. McIntyre.