Have you ever asked yourself what it is you are tethered to? If so, you will appreciate the importance of having a better understanding of the word tethered and the different contexts in which it can be used.
Tethered is defined as the securing of an animal to a fixed object so as to limit its range of movement. It is used to prevent animals (e.g. dogs) straying in the owner’s absence or to allow animals (e.g. sheep and goats) to graze unfenced pasture.
Although goats are herd animals they are happy to be tethered if they have sufficient food and water and feel safe.
A tethered goat can be used to remove noxious weeds like blackberries and gorse as long as the tether is free of snags.
A more distasteful practice is the use of a ‘tethered goat’ as bait to lure predatory game animals. The predator comes to eat the goat and is shot by the hunter.
Tethered animals require greater supervision and owner vigilance to ensure their basic needs are met and the animal is relaxed.
The word ‘tether’ can be applied to aspects of our life. The connection can be positive or negative, beneficial or detrimental, to our sense of identity and purpose.
Tethered to the past:
The impact your past has on your present is extremely powerful.
Author Laura Hedgecock writes about being ‘tethered to the past.’ She says,
“The past is an integral part of our future. Our positive memories create a strong bond with the past. But when the past colours our existence to the point that the present and future are drained of reason, it’s a tether to be broken – or at least loosened up a bit.”
We can be tethered to the past by fond memories, comforting memories, reminders of happier times. We look back and long for the people who are no longer with us. We miss their advice and companionship. Positive memories are like an anchor, keeping us grounded and helping us from getting lost or drifting into danger.
We don’t move forward in life in a vacuum. We move forward from a starting point, recognising the value and importance of what has gone before. As Hedgecock says,
“If we completely disconnect ourselves from the past, our journey forward has less meaning. It’s like a silhouette instead of a landscape. It’s missing context.”
Tethered to painful experiences:
We can also be tethered to painful experiences, events saturated in sadness. The pain of loss can be overwhelming. Sometimes you find yourself unable to move on. You seem tethered to the void that loss created in your life. Even worse, that grief can descend into a downward spiral, adversely impacting every area of your life.
Sometimes love gets all mixed up with loss and grief. You realise your pain has become an expression of love lost; the way you honour your loved one. In some ways, grief has even come to define you in the context of life after loss. We might say,
“My suffering is a sign of how much my loved one meant to me. If I’m not suffering my love for them must be diminishing.”
Our connection to our loved one is not dictated by our sorrow and pain. We don’t have to remember them through a prism of grief. Our memories live in the stories we tell about our loved one, in the things we do to honour them, in the actions we take to stay connected. Our loved one isn’t disappearing as our pain diminishes; rather we are learning to live with the memory of our loved one in a different way.
Tethered to trauma:
Many people are tethered to trauma and because trauma is often a shared experience its influence is far-reaching. Unhealed trauma is likened to a tethered butterfly. It holds us back from being the person we were created to be.
David Brubaker has written about First Community Church, a church that was unable to keep their senior pastors for more than five years. A newly appointed pastor sort the help of a facilitator to explore the history of the church in the hope of finding a cause. What he discovered demonstrates how trauma can shape our lives.
The facilitator invited participants to share their memories of the church over the past ten decades. When they reached the 1960’s there was a sudden silence. Someone mentioned that young pastor John came to the congregation in 1968 but no-one offered any further comment. The facilitator waited.
Mabel, a 70-something member of First Community was the first to offer a response. Mabel spoke in a whisper. She said,
“Pastor John was killed by a train as he walked along the tracks after just one year as our pastor. Some people say it was a freak accident. Others believe he ‘committed’ suicide. We never knew. And we never talked about it.”
Fifty years earlier, First Community experienced the loss of a beloved young pastor just one year into his appointment. The congregation responded to that trauma by never talking about it but retaining the memory. And it was the memory of the trauma that was transferred generationally – passed on from one generation to the next as an unshakable commitment never again to fall in love with a pastor. The result was a series of short-term appointments.
As Brubaker points out,
“A trauma narrative need not be verbalised to be transmitted from generation to generation.”
It comes down to an instinctive awareness of who can be trusted and who cannot.
Recovery is possible, but we cannot change what we will not name. As Brubaker says,
“The roots of a trauma story must first be discovered before they can be dislodged.”
The word we often hear spoken about in this context is resilience. According to the American Psychological Association,
“Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress – such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace or financial stressors.”
Resilient people bounce back from difficult experiences. They know that while any traumatic experience is devastating, it is not the definer of an individual’s life path or of their humanity.
Tethered to hope:
Resilient people are tethered to hope. It has been said that a person can live forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only a second without hope.
We know the negative consequences of trying to survive without hope. As author Dutch Sheets says,
“The loss of hope produces resignation, fear, unbelief, loss of passion, retreat from life, and a host of other heart disease maladies.”
Best-selling author Ann Voskamp encourages us to
“Hold fast to Hope – for if Hope ebbs away, you became a broken wing who cannot fly.”