I tend to see my life move in rhythms. Influxes of themes. Repetition in the routes conversations take. Those tend to be what move me, what impassion me and inspire me to dig my heels in a little deeper. To take the moments and just let them settle on my shoulders as important and notable.
The repetition lately seems to be in regards to hearing pain in people. Interactions with people in dark places stumbling beneath heaviness, carrying burdens and reminiscing about seasons of pain, my own or others. At twenty-four, I am by no means an expert, I'm actually fairly inexperienced at dealing with tragedy or crisis. But I hear it often enough and have had my own fair bouts with it to be able to tangibly recognize it quick and empathize deeply.
As I've been reflecting on the pain around me, I sense an overarching desire to overcome pain. To beat it. To achieve renewal that extracts the painful experiences from our story. Like it is some wall that once we reach over, it becomes a trophy of something attained or accomplished.
But the problem is, pain doesn't ever speak to our virtue. And neither does healing.
We know that's true because pain doesn't necessarily come with warning. It doesn't afflict particular people and avoid others. Pain cannot be about virtue because pain cannot be deterred. I have too many friends who are in the throes of infertility or breakups or financial ruin or health problems to ever believe otherwise. These are virtuous people, full of grace and belief and hope and trust in Jesus that I cannot fathom ever possessing myself given the situation reversed. They've just received the shadow of pain without any due.
So why do we believe that overcoming/beating/moving beyond pain boasts any achievement of us then? Even more than that, why do we believe that that should speak to a value in us? Maybe it's because we have some psychological need to believe that there is something in us that can win SOMETHING when we feel like we're losing everything. Maybe it's because we actually believe that we deserve painful things based off of something we've done wrong and we can do penance to right it. Maybe it's just because we are so afraid of hurt being a part of our being that we choose to believe that if we fight hard enough we can leave it behind us and people will notice how strong we are.
I would pose that the most latter may be the most true.
But what if rather than trying to overcome pain, we absorbed it. If we let it rest uglily on our shoulders as part of our story. If we let it have its place in our lives and experienced healing so deep that we were changed permanently.
The word that most comes to mind about what this looks like is limping. Because pain damages us, right? Injuries don't fully heal and there are residual stains over every area of our lives that no prayer, husband, friendship, job, dollar amount can actually remove. And actually, maybe we're better if it isn't removed.
What if our limping actually allows us to make it further than we ever could in full form? The only place a paradox like that works is in the presence of Jesus. He is the one who invites us ugly ones to sit at His table of communion.
Like the parable in Luke 14:16-24 where the rich man invites all his wealthy friends and no one comes, so he tells his servant to grab the homeless people to share a meal with. David Benner talks about this in his book The Gift of Being Yourself. We are the homeless people invited to the table. Our whole persons, the really crappy, self-righteous parts of ourselves included. The parts that experience pain and want retribution. The parts of ourselves that are self-righteous and incredulous. The parts of ourselves that hate who or what has inflicted pain on us. That is the part Jesus invites to the table, not to scold, but to tenderly hear and love through invitation to His kindness. He doesn't look away from our brokenness, He invites us instead to sit around His table and drink deeply.
That's where the healing happens. The good healing, the kind that allows marriages built on infidelity to be healed through forgiveness and repentance, the kind that believes simultaneously in firm justice and unending grace for horrifying wrongs like with Planned Parenthood. The kind of healing that takes time and work and effort and pain and discomfort and screwing it up a bunch of times before getting a little better. But it's the healing I have found to be most true and most worth it; where I have been invited again and again in my life to find real freedom that doesn't confine me to live my life around my pain or my overcoming of pain as a measure of my value. The freedom to walk with a limp for the rest of my life without being afraid of how ridiculous I look.
Because more important than how I'm limping is where I'm limping too. I'm limping to Jesus and His world that redeems pain and heals desecration. His home that welcomes my torn tissue and nerve damage and answers it with a song of deep hope. Restoration for both my body and my soul. And given the choice of experiencing deep pain and knowing deeper healing or never having any of it and not knowing the glory of redemption, I will chose the former every time. Every. Single. Time.
All of this to say, I pray and cry and hug my friends in the dark days and let them do the same for me. Pain is pain and meant to be experienced fully. I'm thankful that I no longer have to be afraid of either their pain or my own. I'm thankful that my story has been one that's been met with deep healing and hope so I can believe in it for other people. I'm also thankful that I'm not responsible to be the healer for any of them. Instead I just get to bear burdens and remind that health is there for us, it just doesn't take the form we thought it did. It's a Person not a position.