When Redemption Wins: Pain

“Oh it’s not that bad today,” I told the therapist, “just a little tense.”

She smiled (in retrospect it was a bit of an amused smile…) and said,”Ok…well, let’s see what we can do,” and she went to work on my left shoulder, an on-again/off-again source of pain, tightness and general discomfort in my life–no injury, just a bad-luck draw from the gene pool, exacerbated by hunching my shoulders when I thought myself too tall as a teenager, and now from lots of time spent at my computer.

Her experienced hands ran down my shoulder blade and then, ouch!!, I felt it, and so did she–a giant knot rearing its ugly head, provoked, and unhappy about it. I gasped. And I heard her chuckle and murmur, “Yep. There it is.”

Today my shoulder is sore–not from tension or shoulder-hunching, but from the hard work it took to relax the muscles and ease that damn knot–a tender reminder of pain felt and dealt with, even as I thought, “I’m fine!”

Because this is how it is with pain.

Of any kind.

Be it physical or emotional or mental or spiritual, or a combination thereof, pain will not be ignored, and any attempt to do so will only serve to one day wake the sleeping giant of what we’ve tried to push back, force deep inside, or gloss over with manufactured “happy.”

I’ve written before that I don’t believe God causes our pain. And I stand by that. God is first and foremost and always Love-all-consuming and unconditional. No matter what.

Cause our pain? No. But perhaps use it to work some healing grace in our lives? Absolutely.

Because I also believe God does not waste our pain. Generally, there is something to be learned in the midst of pain, even as it threatens to undo us with its awfulness.

I have a friend who once told me that she has spent the vast majority of her life attempting to avoid pain–physical or emotional either way, she’s built up walls to protect herself, hedged her bets, tried to exact control.

And of course there are ways to prevent pain: not touching a hot stove with bare hands…avoiding substance abuse…striving for healthy relationships…practicing self care. But the truth is that if you are going to live, you are going to hurt. If you are going to truly, madly and deeply love and know joy, you are going to suffer. All-encompassing joy and transforming love do not exist without pain nearby, waiting, because eventually, loss comes. Grief strikes. Destruction happens. And sometimes, this will knock you to your knees, breath gone, with no clue as to how you will actually get up off the floor, never mind take a step or two forward.

Such is the risk of loving…of living.

The greatest gift I believe we can give another person is to recognize and honor their pain. To understand that it might not ever go away, no matter how many positive thoughts we have or how mighty our will to conquer it might be. To see the pain, acknowledge it, but not let it define the person. Or ourselves. And then to simply be in it with them. To not turn away, but to face it, head on, and let it do its slow and agonizing work. No fixing. Just presence straight through it.

Because in the working through it is redemption. I know this sounds impossible. But in the work is redemption, mercy that falls like the sweetest of soft Kentucky spring rains across the burned-out shells of whatever lives we once knew, making space for grace to grow, winding its way into our hearts and reminding us that not once have we ever been alone.

When redemption wins, it will not be because there is no more pain. It will be because despite the pain, there is life, even when it has to be fought for, dug down deep for, pulled by the scruff of the neck along the very rocky road, until one day, we stop for gasping for survival and begin to breathe deep again.

With hope. Tenuous though it may be.

It can all hurt so deeply, y’all. I know. But this is what we were made for. To love and live so completely that it’s possible to be brought face-down into anguish.

And it’s possible, too, to rise from the ashes of what was into the possibility of what might be….

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