Letting The Pain In
I'm not a big fan of suffering.
In fact, I try to avoid it at all costs if I can.
This is why I wouldn't make a perfect monk, as I've stated a few times in the past couple of weeks.
It's also why I often try to avoid dealing with my personal challenges, hard conversations, uncomfortable silences, relationship issues, and a whole host of things that I perceive will lead to suffering.
And it's also why when there are trying seasons of my life when everything feels like it's falling apart, I want to do anything I can to alleviate the pain I'm feeling.
I feel like most of us operate this way. Our culture of comfort teaches us in a hundred different ways every day that we shouldn't have to suffer or feel pain.
So we buy our way out of suffering if we've got the means. Or we pursue risky behaviors that numb us to what we're feeling. We also might distract ourselves with social media or binging TV shows.
And some of us seek refuge behind religious platitudes like, "God doesn't give us more than we can handle," or "God works out everything for our good..."
Then we convince ourselves that an actual Jesus follower shouldn't suffer or let the pain in because all Jesus wants us to be is happy.
When we allow ourselves to feel our pain and experience the suffering it might bring, we give ourselves the chance to be more connected to our true selves and the Divine all around us.
Cutting ourselves off from our feelings can quickly become a habit that is hard to break and absolutely self-destructive if it becomes how we live our lives.
In her fantastic book When Everything Falls Apart, Pema Chodron offers this:
We think that by protecting ourselves from suffering we are being kind to ourselves. The truth is, we only become more fearful, more hardened, and more alienated. We experience ourselves as being separated from the whole.
In Al-Anon, one of the many phrases shared repeatedly in meetings and in Al-Anon literature is this: "You are entitled to your feelings." What this means is that when we repress our feelings and do our best to avoid feeling pain because of them, we do ourselves a disservice.
On the other hand, when we allow ourselves to feel our feelings (even the painful ones), they serve as a barometer that gives us vital information about what is happening in us, all around us, and through us.
The problem with doing everything we can to avoid pain and suffering is that when we repress pain, bypass it, or try to numb it, we give it power over us.
Rather than avoiding pain, we ought to allow ourselves to feel it, to let it teach us, and recognize it is not only a part of life, it is also a part of us. Without it, we often never move from comfort to action, from inertia to transformation.
Without our painful feelings, we are challenged to learn empathy and be connected with others who are in pain. We also are less likely to allow ourselves to be cared for and loved more fully and are definitely less open to receiving grace.