Down We Go: Welcoming Pain like a Guest for Dinner

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“How do we treat guests who come to our house? We treat them kindly and engage with them. We don’t ignore them and pretend they aren’t there.”

By Kathy Escobar | Twitter: @kathyescobar

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“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  – Matthew 5:4

I used to hate pain.

It’s not something people stand up and ask for more of, yet it’s a deep and critical part of the human experience.  A critical element of a downwardly mobile life is becoming people who can welcome pain–our own pain and the pain of others.

For many years, I was the consummate pain avoider–the one who tried to sweep my pain under the rug,  pretend like everything was just “fine” and keep on my happy face. It also wasn’t something I first learned in church.  I had been hiding pain long before I ever set foot into a church or dedicated my life to following Jesus. Once I did become a Christian, though, and entered the world of discipleship, I did pick up on an unspoken but obvious cue:  “Actually, we don’t talk about pain here, either.” 

I will be honest—I was so relieved.  I had an incredible amount of pain stuffed down that stemmed from my shameful past and deep insecurities, and I really didn’t want to talk about it. The only bummer was that I was talking about it–without words.  For me, my pain came out in wonderfully helpful ways like performance addiction and perfectionism. Most of us know these two behaviors can help us get far in ministry and our careers, but allow us to remain in hiding.

Pain will always be expressed.  In some way, shape, or form, it always comes out.  The questions that need to be asked, especially for those who are trying to follow the downwardly mobile ways of Christ, individually and corporately, are:

– How can we learn to welcome the pain, instead of run from it?

– How can we be people and places that aren’t afraid of pain, and who acknowledge its presence, purpose and power? 

Occasionally I facilitate a support group for women who are healing from sexual abuse. We sometimes talk about inviting pain as a guest to the dinner table. How do we treat guests that come to our house? We treat them kindly and engage with them. We don’t ignore them and pretend they aren’t there. We welcome them into our presence, instead of slamming the door in their faces.

The majority of my experience within Christian circles has been an avoidance of pain. 

There is a subtle and sometimes direct aversion to welcoming pain into our lives and communities.

It is hard to be in the messy, bloody, unpredictable places of our own and other people’s real lives—in the addictions, job losses, shame, insecurities, abuses, divorces, wayward children, deaths, doubts, loneliness and depression. Gaping wounds are not pretty. To protect ourselves from pain, we sometimes send a subtle message to others that says, “Please put a band-aid on that.  Do something to make me feel more comfortable, and then I can be in relationship with you.” We don’t want it in our face, so we send people off to “get healing.”  We recommend counseling and certain books to read, and hope our friends will figure it out—fast.  And when we are in our own pain, we get mad at ourselves for hurting and struggling, and for not being able to figure an easier way to feeling better soon.

Our methodologies and anxiety about pain separate “healthy” people from “hurting” people and send a mixed-up message: that pain can be separated from our regular experience, instead of embracing the reality that most people are pretty desperate and suffering in some way.

Pain is just a different story for each of us.

Jesus was fairly clear that he came for the sick, not the healthy.  I spent a lot of time trying to pretend I was healthy when, really, I was a mess! I think we’re all sick, but it’s a matter of recognizing, embracing and welcoming it so God can enter into it and bring continued healing.

And until we create loving spaces for pain to be acknowledged, it won’t go away, and far too many people will suffer alone.

For me, this loving space started with a safe women’s group 18 years ago.  Over the years it has evolved into various pockets of love sometimes with men and women together, sometimes with just the girls, where I have a safe place to express the reality of my own struggles and listen to the pain of my friends.  These sacred spaces are transforming.

These sacred spaces aren’t built through buildings or programs or formulas. Like everything else on the downward journey of living out the wild ways of Jesus, these sacred spaces are built only through people. Brave people who welcome pain–our own pain and the pain of others–and hold on to hope that God is at work in the midst of it all.

The only thing we need to do is to practice being honest.

And make room in our hearts and lives for others to be painfully honest, too.

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My dear SheLoves friends, I’d love to hear your thoughts:

  • How do you treat pain in your house?
  • What have you learned about Jesus in your pain
  • Any other thoughts?

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About Kathy:

Kathy Escobar co-pastors The Refuge, an eclectic faith community in North Denver dedicated to those on the margins of life and faith. She blogs regularly about life and faith at www.kathyescobar.com and just released a new book called, Down We Go–Living out the Wild Ways of Jesus in Action. She lives in Arvada, Colorado with her husband, Jose, and five kids.

Image credit: flickr

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Idelette McVicker
I like soggy cereal and I would like to go to every spot on the map of the earth to meet our world’s women. I dream of a world where no women or girls are for sale. I dream of a world where women and men are partners in doing the work that brings down a new Heaven on earth. My word last year was “roar” and I learned it’s not about my voice rising as much as it is about our collective voices rising in unison to bring down walls of injustice. This year, my own word is “soar.” I have three children and this place–right here, called shelovesmagazine.com–is my fourth baby. I am African, although my skin colour doesn’t tell you that story. I am also a little bit Chinese, because my heart lives there amongst the tall skyscrapers of Taipei and the mountains of Chiufen. Give me sweet chai and I think I’m in heaven. I live in Vancouver, Canada and I pledged my heart to Scott 11 years ago. I believe in kindness and calling out the song in each other’s hearts. I also believe that Love covers–my gaps, my mistakes and the distances between us. I blog at idelette.com and tweet @idelette.
Idelette McVicker

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  • Kelley Johnson Nikondeha

    I learned from Catholic & contemplative, Richard Rohr, that great pain (and great love) is deeply transformative and ought to be embraced. He alos taught me that ‘everything belongs’ in my story – pain, love, light, dark, all of it. God weaves it all together into something lovely… and so to fully accept the breadth of my story I have to be honest and hospitable to my own pain. It has been instructive for me… not easy, but good. Desmond Tutu also talks about spirituality having to come to terms with, and embrace, suffering (pain) to really bring about transfiguration. Listening to these two sages pushed me to see / experience pain differently.

    Now I talk about it more honestly and without shame… it is part of my story, part of my formation. I try to surrender to it… not give up, but stop fighting it or trying to hide it or ignore it. I am learning to acknowledge that the pain is there, and that it is allowed to be there for now. I am sensitive about who I share my pain with… but I no longer try to deny it. I want my pain to have transformative potential in my life… so like you, I know it has to be a guest I respect and not shun.

    Your words are good and necessary… because we all need to face / embrace our pain to be truly transformed and freed!

    • Christiana

      That’s so interesting Kelley, and so not what I’m used to hearing! I guess it’s true that there is “a time for everything.” It’s a relief to hear that it’s okay to be sad sometimes….Thank you for sharing your take on this.

    • Kelley, your comments are pot de creme posts! I love you friend. xoxo

  • Christiana

    Umm, whoah! I feel like you’ve been reading my diary, Kathy…This definitely resonates. I have NEVER thought about treating pain like a friend. Something about that seems really freeing though. It’s a relief for a chronic pain-avoider to hear this!

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