What Do We Do With Our Pain?
What do you do with all of your pain when you are trying to move forward into the future with at least a sliver of hope to keep you stumbling along?
This is the kind of question that I get from time to time when I'm doing my best to help someone navigate the trials and tribulations they've encountered.
Those kinds of existential questions come with the territory when you're a pastor, and more often than not, the person asking is doing so because they think you've got an answer for them.
I have to admit, I don't have the kind of answer that you might expect.
Most folks assume that I'll provide some kind of inspirational nugget that will say something about how our struggles help us build character and strengthen our faith--which is not a terrible answer, to be honest.
Or they think that I'll say something upbeat and unbiblical like, "God never gives us any more than we can handle," or "If God brought you to it, God will see you through it."
Those last two things presuppose that God is standing off to the side with a clipboard taking notes while we go through suffering because God is always testing us to see if we have what it take to be on God's team.
Just to be clear, God isn't keeping score. That's not how God works, even though far too many of us were taught to believe it.
In the end, my go-to answer to the question of what to do with pain is simply this:
"Sometimes we just have to go through stuff, and the pain caused by our suffering has to be carried for a while... just not forever."
Unfortunately, most of us tend to hang on to our pain, refusing to let it go because we have gotten so used to feeling it. It becomes like an old friend that we know is a really bad influence on us, but we don't know how to cut ties with them.
And sometimes we get to the point where we don't even know who we are without our pain because we've been carrying it for so long.
This is why we need new ways to talk about these things, like the way that Steven Charleston talks about them in his book Ladder to the Light. There's a passage in the book where Charleston imagines a life-giving process of turning pain and brokenness into something life-giving and hopeful:
The ground of love transforms the seeds of sorrow to new life, new hope, new beginnings, through the mystery of soul-deep healing. I do not leave my faith fallow, but I use my brokenness like a garden until it turns loss to gain and tears to songs of joy.
Our pain is important to us. We shouldn't spend our lives trying to avoid pain, because it will only lead to more of it. But we also can't lug it around forever.
This passage is so beautiful to me as a way to imagine how our pain can become generative for us when we let it go, but also learn from it.
Charleston imagines a garden where he lets go of his pain by burying it like seeds into the churned-up ground of his life of faith---ground made fertile by his own brokenness.
It is in that fertile ground that new life, new hope, and new beginnings grow and flourish. When we use our pain as the seeds for all this amazing newness we are living in the eternal rhythms of dying and rising.
We are signs and symbols of resurrection---all of us. But we need to be able to see ourselves as such, and not as broken, marred, or even left for dead.
May you see yourself today as a living, breathing sign of Christ's resurrection---a child of God, who is loved and cherished beyond your wildest dreams.
May this be so for you today and every day from this day. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.
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