Thursday, December 02, 2010

The problem with pain

and grief in our society is that we don't seem to know how to handle them well. I've been learning a lot about wounding, grief, and pain lately, and I've noticed a tendency to fall off the map in two different ways:

First, we become cynical. Angry. We give in to the hurt, seeking validation for our pain. I suppose this fits in well with Kubler-Ross's Anger stage. We have been hurt, we face grief, and we get angry. It's normal, it's natural, and it can be productive in the right time and place. But sometimes I think the world is full of people who've been hurt and never moved on from this stage. I meet so many angry people, people holding grudges, suspicious people who take offense at any perceived slight (have you noticed they all tend to come out at Christmas-time, those cynical, perpetually-offended folks who take every opportunity to downplay the joy and happiness of others?). It's so easy to dwell in the pain, to feel self-righteous in the pain, to cherish the pain, to wallow in the pain. Some of us are professionals when it comes to righteous anger.

On the other hand, the second area in which we fail is to deny the pain. At least, to pretend it doesn't matter. We're good at fooling ourselves this way; we're often prodded in this direction by well-meaning friends. "It's not that bad. . .you just have to get over it" is the repeated refrain. So what that somebody lied about you? So what that somebody is gossiping about you? So what that a trusted friend betrayed you? Just get over it! (note to readers: this isn't exactly autobiographical, so don't start trying to read more into this than is here. I'm not speaking of any person in particular, just situations common to us all) We often tell ourselves "It's wrong to remain broken; I need to pick myself up, dust myself off, and keep moving as if nothing happened!" Others tell us "you just need to forgive and forget." But that's denial. You would never tell a friend with a broken arm "just get over it." So, too, we can't "just get over" a place that's wounded in our soul.

The real challenge is to maintain hope even while owning the pain. Either of the above two picks up on one of those pieces but misses the other. We claim to 'hold out hope' by denying the power of the wound, or we hold on to the wound but miss out on the possibility of redemption and healing. The lesson I'm being taught these days is the necessity of naming the pain, of accepting the wound, of choosing reality over denial (yes, life hurts sometimes) even while holding out hope that God is in control, God brings healing, God is our defender, God will make something beautiful our of our brokenness. All of which allows us to live with peace and joy even while nursing a broken spirit. It allows us to look deeply into the pain and mourn the loss, to grieve and lament the hurt, but it doesn't allow it to defeat us. Instead it reminds us that God is a friend who sits with us in our pain but also carries the pain for us; it also allows us to lift our eyes and see that, even in the valley of the shadow of death, we don't need to be afraid. The day is coming when we will feel the anointing of holy oil upon us, when our cups will overflow again, when we will dine at the table he has prepared for us.

Truthfully, it's not easy. It's hard soul work, something we're not naturally inclined to do. But it's a sweeter  road to walk, this walking in the light, this naming the pain even while holding out hope for a better tomorrow. It's a lesson I gladly accept from the Lord's hand.

1 comment:

Lori said...

Well said.