Still (part 3: feeling the pain)

“I’m so sorry,” she said, as I tensed, my teeth clenching against the aching poke of a needle into a vein that clearly did not want to receive it.

“It’s fine,” I said. And managed a weak smile, turning my attention to the cold Diet Coke on the infusion suite chair arm rest, and the Chicago PD rerun on the TV.

“So sorry,” she said again, “I’m just having trouble finding the vein.”

“It’s okay,” I murmured, as Hank Voigt’s gravelly voice launched into a “Get your asses in gear!” speech to his detectives.

Finally the needle and the vein both cooperated and liquid iron began its journey into my body. The nurse vanished and I let out a deep breath, settling back into the seat, quiet and stillness once again my twin companions.

Today there is a small, faint bruise at the crook of my arm. And as I noticed it this morning, and felt its tenderness, I thought, “Why did I tell her it was fine? Why did I try to minimize the pain she was causing?”

Is it because I knew it wasn’t on purpose, that she was trying her level best? Maybe. Is it because I knew I had to just get through it? Maybe. And those are valid reasons to say, “It’s fine.” Sometimes, “it’s fine,” is how we cope. And sometimes, that’s okay–it’s what gets us through to the next part of the journey.

But the whole thing has me thinking about pain this morning. Particularly the ways we try to hide it. Mask it. Even deny it. And I am fully convinced, that roughly 90% of the world’s, and most certainly our nation’s, problems could be solved if we quit attempting to mask what hurts us, what scares us, what leaves us feeling vulnerable and instead shouldered the immense bravery required to say, “I hurt. Deeply. And sometimes that hurt makes me act out in ways I don’t even understand. Sometimes that hurt makes me hurt others. But really, I just hurt. And I don’t know how to make the hurt stop.”

The only way through the hurt, y’all, is to feel it. To let it work on you. Teach you. Lead you into whatever’s next. Open a path to healing.

Feel. It.

There is very little that tells us how to do this. Very few places that give us room to let the pain wash over us so that we might find a way to its other side.

And there are many, many things and many, many places that do quite the opposite–that offer us ways to escape and refuse it. Alcohol. Drugs. Ill-advised sex. Being a workaholic. Lashing out at others in hurtful ways so vicious we transfer the hurt (theoretically) to them. Attempts to control our environments and our loved ones and our situations.

Even “good” things mask our real pain sometimes. Hiding behind humor. Dedicating ourselves to a cause (even a good and just one) with such vim and vigor we don’t have to deal with our own demons. Anything to hide what’s broken our hearts and made us afraid or sad or anxious or lonely.

There is very little I know for sure, but, what I do know is that any attempt to disguise, hide or push away the things that break our hearts and wear on our souls is, in fact, futile.

This is not to say, y’all, that the whole world needs to know your business. Boundaries are important and discretion matters, especially when broken lives are at stake. It’s the denial that the brokenness even exists that gets us in trouble. Time and time and over and over again.

Such denial brews discontent. Edginess. Hate. Assumption. Misunderstanding. Insecurity. Doubt. It slaps a weak bandage on something in need of whole healing. And lets us lie to ourselves so effectively that we’re able to muster “I’m fine, everything’s okay,” so convincingly that we begin to believe it.

In my faith tradition, it is the season of Advent. And while Advent often gets misconstrued and commercialized into this sort of happy anticipation about the event of Christmas, it is, at its heart, a season of allowing ourselves to feel pain of this earth. Feel it so deeply that we are able to hear the earth’s cries for healing, for peace, for a way forward out of the angry chaos, and into the light of the joy of Christ’s birth.

Because joy and pain, they live side-by-side in each of us. We cannot know the saving grace of one, without having known the destruction of the other. 

The world has always been broken. The world has always been full of pain. God created us beautifully human, and we mess it up time and time again. But – God created us beautifully human, and that means we are just as equally capable of the love and mercy God wants for all of us, as we are of the things that deny such love and mercy.

I have marked the weeks between Thanksgiving and this week before Christmas in an IV infusion suite – where lives hang in the balance every day, and where I am confident God’s tears often flow. And where I have also been given space — quiet and stillness enough– to see what’s possible, to reach down deep and believe once again that all is not lost.

Because unto us has been given the love of God made known in the most vulnerable thing of all – a baby.

And if nothing else, this tells me that from the very beginning, God never intended us to hide our pain, but to join one another in it, so that there might be hope for all God’s children.


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