The Pain We Hide from Ourselves
None of us want to admit it, but we all have it. Or have had it at some point. Emotional pain that just won’t go away. Sometimes we think we’ve stuffed it, but then — bam — something seemingly innocent happens and it all comes crashing back.
Daniel was so past his divorce. He’d made his peace with it. Until he went to his nephew’s wedding. Emotions he thought were long gone were really only hiding. They rose up and slammed him out of nowhere. He drank way too much at the reception. And every night after that.
Melanie was over her abortion, or so she thought. No one knew, and she’d moved on. Until her best friend invited her to the baby shower. And it all came crashing back. She went and put on a happy face. No one knew she was dying inside. But she was.
Sometimes we can’t even begin to stuff it, and we just learn to live with it. Or better put, survive with it.
Lisa cannot remember a time when she wasn’t battling depression. She lives in a box, behind a mask, trying desperately to keep the outside world at bay, to stay in control. Where is the joy all the other Christians have? Are they just faking it, too? Or is there something wrong with her? She suspects the latter. She desperately hopes this next relationship will fix it all. Again.
Somehow we learn to cope. Maybe we self-medicate. Maybe we control. Sometimes we put on a face and pretend, hiding the real me. We’ve coped with it for so long we think it’s normal. But it’s not. Although it’s very common, just coping forever is not healthy.
God has something for us so much better than coping. He has a new-normal for us, without the pain. It’s called healing. But how do we embrace it? How do we move into that place?
Be the Buffalo
The short answer is, Be the buffalo not the cow. Dude, what are you even talking about? What to bovines have to do with deep emotional pain? I’m glad you asked.
When there’s a thunderstorm on the plain, buffalo and cattle both panic.Both herds stampede, and you don’t want to be in the way! But there’s a major difference.
Cattle take off running away from the storm as fast as they can. If the storm’s coming from the west, they stampede east. This is the obvious, no-brainer thing to do to avoid the storm. The problem is, they’re running the same direction as the storm’s moving, and the storm always moves faster. So it eventually overtakes them anyway. And since they’re running the direction it’s moving, they actual maximize their time in the storm by trying to avoid it.
On the other hand, buffalo run straight at the thunderstorm. So if the storm’s coming from the west, they stampede west, right into it. This seems really dumb at first glance, but it’s actually brilliant. Since they’re running the opposite direction the storm is moving, they minimize their time in the storm. And they get rewarded with the yummy, freshly watered grass on the other side. Bonus!
Most of us run from our pain, like cattle running from a thunderstorm. But avoidance just maximizes our time in the pain when it catches up with us, and it always does.
John Sanford, founder of Elijah House Ministries said, “We need to embrace the fireball of pain.” Wow. Seriously, dude? Yeah, seriously. We need to go where it hurts, not avoid it.
Ok, you sold me. How do we “embrace the fireball of pain?”
I’m glad you asked. There’s 3 steps to start this process.
1) Start the journey with God.
Be honest. Don’t hide it or pretend it’s not there. Honestly tell God how you feel. It’s ok to hurt. It’s ok to not feel joy. Read the Psalms. Many of them are written from places of extreme pain. They are examples of God meeting people in the middle of extremely painful circumstance, doubt and fear. For a start, look at Psalms 3, 4, 5, 7, 10, 13, 17, 22, 28, 40, 120, and many, many more.
What gets scheduled gets done, so schedule time to pray and meditate each day with God, even if it’s just 10 minutes during a break. Stopping, unplugging, and getting alone with him, even if just for a few minutes, makes a huge difference.
2) Start the journey with someone else.
You don’t need to tell everyone everything. But you need to tell someone everything. So often the pain’s power over us is rooted in shame. Shame protects itself by isolating us. We think we’re the only one. But we’re not. Often, sharing our pain with someone else breaks the shame and that’s 80% of the healing right there.
So often we the church do such a disservice to people by forcing them to either hide their pain or face our rejection. I know someone who, in a vulnerable moment, shared the pain in their life. They were actually told by their Bible study leader at church, “Well, Christians are supposed to be joyful, so if you’re not feeling joy, are you even saved?”
What rubbish! Jesus does not deliver us from pain, he delivers us through it. He never promised we wouldn’t have trouble in this world (in fact just the opposite, see John 16:33). He promised us he’d be there with us in the middle of it. So we should be there for each other.
If your church shames you for having pain in your life, find a different church. There are many churches out there that get this right. Find someone you trust that you can share your journey with, and who is willing to share theirs with you. You’ll find that, no matter how perfect they look, they have pain in their life, too.
3) Recognize the season.
Healing is a season, it doesn’t happen overnight. The season can be weeks, months, years, or even decades.
Sometimes, for whatever reason he alone knows, God doesn’t heal at all. I know some very strong Christians, men and women of deep intimacy with the Lord, faith and power, who have battled depression their whole life. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them or their faith. It means God is choosing to use that for his glory in their lives (see John 9:3). He is meeting them right there in the middle of it, just like he did the Apostle Paul, who, by the way, he also didn’t heal (see 2 Corinthians 12:7–9). So if this is you, you’re in good company.
I can’t promise God will eventually heal your situation. Often he totally does. But I can promise God is always good, and will meet you in the middle of it.
Personally, a moment of vulnerability here, I still struggle with self-hatred. But I’m getting stronger and it’s a lot weaker than it used to be. I’m learning how to not agree with it and instead agree with what God says about me. Jesus has been my deliverer in the middle of it. And continues to be. How about you?