I don't know about you (although I have a pretty good guess) but I have a tendency to want to escape from pain. There's the obvious pain that happens when we accidentally burn our hand on the stove or curling iron, but I'm talking about emotional pain. Pain in the soul. Are you acquainted with that kind of pain?
For me, it happens anytime, anywhere. I wake with a sense of dread. I go to work with a sense of futility. I make supper with a sense of frustration. I go to bed with a sense of deep longing and loss. These are my every-days.
Before you diagnose me with a Major Depressive Episode (which I've been diagnosed with before) I want to tell you that I've come to realize there's something pretty normal about my days.
At least for a Christian there is.
You see, if you're anything like me, you know the acute pain of living far from Home.
But it's what we do with the pain that makes or breaks us. This is what I'm learning.
I was sitting at the piano bench just yesterday at church, rehearsing for Sunday morning worship....and it hit me. The dread, the futility, the longing, the loss. And my mind went a million directions. First, I noticed it wandering to a recent conversation with my mentor where I felt very seen, known, and loved. Next, in my mind's eye, I was traveling on I-35 south of the Twin Cities where the landscape is lush and green, the oak trees form magnificent forests standing tall and strong and majestic, and the scattered lakes reflect the deep blue summer sky, which screams of beauty and life. My mind quickly moved on to a scenario in which I left my current profession of counseling and was taking on a fresh, new endeavor as a church's worship pastor, and this spoke of freedom and lightness and creativity. I felt unburdened for a few fleeting seconds.
These imaginings all happened within a matter of moments, and I was struck at how quickly and automatically my mind takes me places that promise relief. My heart has a million ways out of the pain, and I'm starting to wonder how much damage I do to my soul when I allow the wanderings.
A strange thought, I know. But I'm noticing some things about Jesus, and I think they speak to the realities of my life, too. When he was nailed to the cross and suffering horrifically, they offered him wine mixed with gall, which would have deadened the pain a bit. 'When he tasted it, he refused to drink it.' He faced the most grueling form of death in that time and culture and he didn't do anything to medicate himself from the pain.
Can. You. Imagine.
There are times of pain and suffering in the Christian's life where, if allowed to, the emotional and spiritual life of Christ will overlay our own. He knew emotional suffering - did you ever think about that? Christ suffered emotionally? Think of where he came from (the perfect relational love of the Trinity) and where he arrived (earth, where nothing is perfect, including love). I imagine he suffered every day with the pain of imperfect love even from those who loved him most. Think Peter, leaping out of the boat and into the water when he saw the risen Jesus on the shore, cooking some fish. It was the best Peter had, and yet there was something profoundly lacking.
He knew. And he felt. And he saw it through. He cried out to His Father. He entered the suffering, and he didn't deaden his pain.
Could his example be beckoning to us as well? Could he be calling us to walk through the pain WITH him, knowing that there's no pain he doesn't understand? I think so. Feel. Suffer. Acknowledge. Lean.
But don't escape.
There is great value in suffering. If only we allow ourselves. It's never wasted. In this backwards, upside-down, paradoxical faith we walk in, the thing that seems most like it will destroy us will actually bring us new life. If we let it.