Feeling Pain for the Last Time

 

“Who dares to suggest this pain could be felt for the last time?  What an audacious assertion.  Maybe your pain.  Not my pain.   Not with what I have been through.”

It’s a radical idea, bidding adieu to pains that have followed us through life.  Many of us learn empirically that ignoring them doesn’t really make them go away.  Some of us have grown accustomed to our pains, and perhaps, have let them seep into our identity, making them difficult to release.  How many of us have honestly tried confronting our pain, though?  Looking deep into our pains—staring down our demons—mines hope for healing.

To be successful, we must be thorough.  There are no shortcuts.  There is no advantage to wallowing, either.   If it’s a feeling you have been repressing, allow yourself to experience the feeling.  Is it as bad as you feared?  Is it worse?  Stay with the feeling and find out.  Conversely, maybe the feeling is extremely familiar, a feeling that you have slid into repeatedly through life without ever realizing its origin.  What kinds of situations lead you to this same old chestnut?  What connects these situations?  Is there an underlying belief that gives way to this feeling?  When examined intellectually, does the magnitude of pain you have experienced measure to the magnitude of its origin?  Allow yourself to be fully present with the pain until you feel a small emptiness where the pain was.  Pain will do this.  It will empty you.

Although arduous, there is something very important to remember when journeying through painful remembrances.  If you are open to change, you can feel this particular
pain for the last time.  You can be healed.

Search yourself.  Is there more pain you want to feel for the last time?  Turn over every rock and search it out.  If pain is lying under there, give it as much feeling as it is due.  Be reflective about how this pain has affected you and if you have given it more than its due.  Know that when you are healed, you will reflect on this matter as a fact, devoid of raw emotion.  The reason you are feeling it for the last time is that you are leaving this place, propelled to a new place and a new way of being.

Dutch priest and revered writer on the spiritual life Henri Nouwen offers, “When we become aware that we do not have to escape our pains, but that we can mobilize them into a common search for life, those very pains are transformed from expressions of despair into signs of hope. “  When we are able to recognize our expressions of despair in this broken place as a sign of hope that a healed destination awaits us, we have fuel for the journey.

Join the conversation.  Do you believe a pain long buried can be healed for all time?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.

Pain: Fuel for the Journey

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves offers a sobering choice:  a broken heart or an irredeemable one.  Fortunately for those inclined towards the former, a broken heart’s byproduct, pain, is extraordinarily useful.  The pain we encounter is not some kind of punishment for wrongdoing.  Pain is not something that God exacts or something from which God could choose to spare us.  Rather, it is an extraordinarily useful gift that arrives amid suffering.   How is pain useful?

First, it can serve as a warning.  Martin Smith in Reconciliation offers, “God refuses to soften or neutralize the painful effects of sin because we need the pain to warn us the acts are destructive of life.”

Second, it can serve as a teacher.  Painful consequences can steer us towards better choices.  Toddlers learn disobedience has consequences.  Though it pains parents to see children suffer the consequences of their bad choices, good parents don’t deprive their children of this learning essential to survival.  Where is God in our pain?  Like the parent, teaching, hoping, loving, infinitely sensitive and compassionate.

Third, it can serve as an impetus.  Few people seek radical life-changing transformation when they are in a comfortable rut.  It’s when the fruitless rut becomes uncomfortable that we open ourselves to another way.  The pain encountered when we look inward for where we have veered off course is the seed of the new way.  If tended to, the seed can grow into a magnificently fruitful tree.

Most compelling to me, pain is fuel.  Japanese poet, author and social activist Kenji Miyazawa (1896 –1933) famously said we must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.  Picking something specific to visualize is going to help in the heat of painful moments.  It could be coal that powers a locomotive you ride to another place or liquid hydrogen in a rocket that blasts you the heck out of here.  Be creative and be visceral.  What does jet fuel feel like? Does it give you a metallic taste in your mouth? Do you smell it?  Evoke all your senses when pain arises, and level your eyes with determination on the destination.

Destination is the key.  At first it may suffice simply to cry, “Beam me up, Scotty,” and evacuate.  Many times I have cried, “My eyes are ever towards the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net.”  (Psalm 25:15)  Eventually, though, what we’re propelled from only gets us so far.  We have to give vision to what we’re propelled towards.

Join the conversation.  How has having a clear vision of your destination helped you work through painful but necessary life changes?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.