pain, untransformed.

“Pain that is not transformed is transmitted/transferred.” (Richard Rohr)

I came across these words of Richard Rohr’s on a friend’s Facebook page this morning. They struck me. In that “full-stop-catch-your-breath” kind of way.

See, yesterday, I saw my dentist. He’s great, my dentist, but going to see him is not my favorite thing (thanks to a childhood dentist who was, well…not so great), so it had been longer than it should have since my last visit. Thankfully, he does not judge. And simply said, “Let’s go ahead and get some X-rays just to be sure all is well.” So we did, and mostly, all is well. No decay. No disease. And that root canal from a couple years back looks fine. I was feeling pretty great about it all until he said, “But Julie…did you know you are grinding your teeth?”

Now, the truth is…yes, I suspected I was grinding my teeth in my sleep. A sore jaw and neck being the biggest indicators of that. But I mean, I didn’t know. You know, for sure (she says, sheepishly). But it’s hard to argue with X-rays showing the wear on my teeth. So we talked about keeping eye on it, and he said it wasn’t so bad quite yet and blah, blah, blah and maybe next time around we’d see if I needed a mouthpiece, etc.

But what I’m thinking about now is what Mr. Rohr said about pain. About how if it doesn’t get transformed it transfers. About how our physical bodies feel, and how our minds/hearts feel, are so often connected. And so it isn’t  hard for me to imagine that maybe…just maybe…that teeth grinding is really me working things out in my sleep. Things like stress. Things like grief. Things like adjusting to significant change.

You know. Things. All the things.

It reminds me of something Glennon Doyle says, “When I feel someone has been unkind, I know that all that just happened is they felt the hot loneliness, but they didn’t know how to be still with it. So they just treat it like a hot potato and pass it to the next person. But pain is not a hot potato. Pain is a traveling professor. And it just goes and knocks on everyone’s door and the smartest people I know are the people who say, ‘Come in and just don’t leave until you’ve taught me what I need to know.'”

Read that again (trust me…read it again).

The smartest people are the ones who let the pain do its work, instead of passing it off to another person in anger or cruelty or harsh words or betrayal or selfish behavior.

God, I’ve been guilty of just passing it on before. Of simply reacting out of my own heartache and misery instead of bravely letting it all do its work so that I might become a better version of myself. And every time…every time…I have eventually regretted that choice.

The truth is that we all bear such deep sorrow. Such hidden hurts. Because this is what it is to be human. Even the most fortunate among us know (or eventually will know) what it is to have the life knocked out of us temporarily and so have to make the difficult choice of whether to emerge victorious from that which has broken us or just…survive.

But passing that sorrow on to others, flexing our pain by transferring it to someone else–gah. This is not the way towards healing.

Nor is letting it fester inside. A wound that just won’t heal and so spreads its heat and toxicity everywhere, throughout us, making the whole of us feel as if nothing will ever be okay again. Or, you know, at least just grinding our teeth down to stubs.

We have to let it do its work. We have to let it drag us down to the dark places so that we can find our way towards light again. We have to let it transform us…from what we were, into what we can be on the other side of it all. And it’s damn hard work, this transformation. Mostly because our plans, our dreams, our images of what who we wanted to be and what we wanted for our lives get dashed along the way.

And y’all, there is very little more painful than the loss of a dream. Than the loss of what we wanted played against what has actually happened. It is so, so hard to let go of what we’d hoped for in our lives. What we’d planned on.

And the pain of that loss…it either destroys or transforms. It either eats us alive or makes us whole again. And some days, the line between destruction and transformation is a very thin one indeed. And sometimes, staying on the transformation side of that line is due to equal parts grit and grace, neither of which requires much strategy or planning ahead.

In the long run, I suspect that our pain’s transformation requires the very uncomfortable work of being vulnerable to it long enough for the pain to lose its power. When we’re vulnerable, when we offer ourselves towards one another and to the Universe with all that’s ugly and torn in us, and ask to be loved anyway…that’s when mercy shows up. And does the slow work of helping us out of the pain and into life again.

Not having transferred that which has hurt us…but having been transformed by it, after all.






2 thoughts on “pain, untransformed.

  1. Thank You, Julie. I have ‘sat with’ this quote of Rohr’s several times. Your reflection is ‘right on’ & a helpful reminder of how to ‘stay with’ the pain until it heals & transforms us.
    Mary Lou


  2. Beautifully written!
    Love Richard Rohr…”the wounds to our ego are our teachers and are to be welcomed.”


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