Archive for the ‘pain’ Tag

Meaningless Melancholy   7 comments

Some days I just ache.  I can feel my mouth pulled into the lines of a half-grimace, like someone trying to cover up an irrepressible agony.  The very question of hope versus hopelessness grows distant as the present pain blocks out any future.  There is just this moment… which stretches on hour after hour.  I can distract myself, but it seems so futile–like playing peek-a-boo with a feverish baby.  At least if I had some huge loss, say of a loved-one, I would have clarity about the reason for my pain, a direction to focus my feelings, and hope that over time some healing would come.  It would make sense.  And others would understand.  What is there even to share or cry over if the misery is nameless?

Posted February 4, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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Ambushed   Leave a comment

Sadness and pain have been oozing from my heart for a week or more.  I don’t know its source, so I can’t seek a cure. Even taking a walk, which usually does me good, has not staunched the ache.   Yesterday I shuffled into the kitchen, and it struck me in the gut like a knife… one moment I am thinking about lunch, and the next I am cringing.  Something I saw out of the corner of my soul, perhaps the flash of some failure past that stings my feelings but does not register conscious thoughts for me to confront and fight. When the edges of the cut are raw, the slightest touch can shock the nerves.  It will eventually lift, but for now I stagger along, looking for any little cubbyhole to tuck my soul into for a brief respite.hiding

Posted February 1, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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I Wonder   4 comments

I wonder what it’s like to be normal, to feel the weight of life’s stresses and hardships balanced out by its joys and pleasures.  I wonder what it’s like not to fight against deep misery every day. not feel crushed by the brokenness of the world.  I expect that when the bumps in the road seem small, the catch phrase verses and bumper sticker encouragements have enough lift to clear your axle.  For the average guy, commonsense advice for tackling problems probably works.

My Facebook friends cheer one another on with links to meditations and quotes that inspire them, and I hear one more rousing verse of Kumbaya as their bus pulls away from the stop where I am left standing.  Unfortunately, I can’t even force myself to see my world from this positive perspective.  I cannot “choose” to be happy.  I’ve tried.  I would have to live in denial of my actual emotional experiences, and I seem constitutionally incapable of that.  I can choose to follow God, to trust Him as best I can, and I do, each day in the face of emotional riptides, but it has led to only tidbits and crumbs of peace and joy.

What is it like to feel life is good, expectations and hopes are often satisfied, and goals motivate rather than burden?  What is it like to have all that extra energy, to have room for creativity and exploration and a wide range of possibilities?  I wonder how it changes a person’s perspective, spirituality, approach to the day’s happenings, understanding of others.   Do those folks use that big supply of emotional resources to understand and face into their fears?  At the expense of their own comfort, do they embrace those who are different and disagree.  Do they strip back their layers of self-protection and dig deep into who they really are?  I wonder.

Posted September 16, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal

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Blessed Are the Cheerful   17 comments

sad womanMost churches are uncomfortable with the melancholy.  This has been a source of pain and confusion for Kimberly, and a spiritual stumbling block.  The church’s unmitigated focus on an optimistic perspective (which it confuses with faith) seems dishonest and feels oppressive to her.  This came up a few days ago and I responded, “It’s really only the churches in this country which are so upbeat.  The American culture has won the church over.  It is not as though Christians started reading their Bibles and said, “Oh, look at this!  We are all supposed to be positive thinkers with permanent smiles.”  If an American had written the Beatitudes, they would start out, “Blessed are the poor rich in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn are cheerful: for they shall be comforted need no comfort.”

Sad-Girl-lYes, you can mourn in church… briefly, over something big, with repeated claims of  steadfast faith, but if you don’t feel better soon because of our sympathy, we take offense.  How quickly does God expect you to get over your grief?  The benefits from the beatitudes seem to be scheduled for the next life.  After all, when do the poor “inherit the earth” and the persecuted receive a great “reward in heaven”?  It appears the sorrowing find full and lasting consolation only at the resurrection.  Jesus does not see the melancholy as spiritually weak or faith-less, but as blessed.  Instead of a condition to avoid or get past, sadness is a door into spiritual blessing.  Perhaps instead of avoiding or trying to fix the mournful, we might learn something from them, something about what it means to love a broken world.

Posted May 2, 2013 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Life is Hard   Leave a comment

From Anne Lamott, Help, Thanks, Wow:

Human lives are hard, even those of health and privilege, and don’t make much sense.  This is the message of the Book of Job:  Any snappy explanation of suffering you come up with will be horseshit.  God tells Job, who wants an explanation for all his troubles, ‘You wouldn’t understand.’

And we don’t understand a lot of things.  But we learn that people are very disappointing, and that they break our hearts, and that very sweet people will be bullied, and that we will be called to survive unsurvivable losses, and that we will realize with enormous pain how much of our lives we’ve already wasted with obsessive work or pleasing people or dieting.  We will see and read about deprivation and barbarity beyond our ability to understand, much less process.  Side by side with all that, we will witness transformation, people finding out who they were born to be, before their parents pretzelized them into high achievers and addicts and charming, wired robots.

But where do we even start on the daily walk of restoration and awakening?  We start where we are. We find God in our human lives, and that includes the suffering.  I get thirsty people glasses of water, even if that thirsty person is just me.

Posted April 17, 2013 by janathangrace in Reading

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Care for the Wounded Self   5 comments

pain-and-shots

Forgiveness 3: Postponing Blame

“Why can’t we learn our spiritual lessons over a box of chocolates instead of through suffering?” a friend once asked me.  Unfortunately this fallen world is thick with pain, especially relational pain, but there’s a flower in the nettles: it’s the hard stuff that grows me personally in patience and courage, and it’s the tough stuff that deepens and strengthens my friendships.  When we brush up against others, our tender nerves jangle us alert to something in our interaction that needs tending.

If I feel the arrows, I snatch up my shield to defend myself, which is natural and healthy—self-protection by flight or fight—but it hurts me if I use that to dodge rather than pursue growth in myself and my relationships.  My emotions yelp when some wound needs my compassionate attention, a wound that may be decades old.  My friend (or enemy) may be the occasion for my pain without being the cause of it.  Her soft words may strike against a sharp emotional edge in my past.  On the other hand, her innocence does not invalidate my pain.  My feelings are what they are regardless of her role.  They carry within them their own legitimacy and don’t need outside validation.  They speak the truth, not about her but about me, about the cuts and bruises on my soul.

crab

When I am hurt in some interaction, I need to slow down and pay attention to the ache, and I need to provide enough emotional space to tend to my injury.  Sometimes, at least initially, this may get messy for the relationship.  I may withdraw for a time or push back, but the goal in padding my emotions is not to avoid, but to embrace this opportunity of self-discovery.  So when I have cleared enough emotional room, I slowly disentangle my pain from her actions and take ownership of my pain.  I do not mean that I blame myself for my pain! If I barge accusingly into my soul, it will duck for cover.  The wounded need compassion, not condemnation.  By taking ownership I mean identifying the agitating source inside me and not outside me (so I can take charge of the healing process).  The diagnosis starts with a caring “Why?”  Why do I feel bad, especially if my feelings are more intense than others would be in this situation.  If I try to fix the relationship before I understand my own heart, things are apt to get more twisted.

blame-her

I am slowly learning, but I still habitually jump past this necessary groundwork when I feel stung.  I quickly assume blame—either he’s at fault for hurting me or I’m at fault for feeling hurt.  But if I blacken the other guy in order to justify my feelings or in order to get him to take responsibility, I overlook what my wincing heart is telling me about my own wounds and need for support, compassion, and healing.  I’m not suggesting that we should deny our feelings about the other person.  That anger, doubt, and fear is the very emotion I must identify, feel, and discern, but I make sense of my feelings by listening to them with gentle care, not by blaming the other fellow.

When I make the other person’s behavior the focus of my attention, I undermine my own self-support, even when he is clearly at fault.  He has leveraged power against me by his hurtful acts, but if I continue to focus on what he’s done, I keep myself his prisoner.  Even if I induce him to apologize and make amends so that I feel better, I will be worse off for it because my good feelings are still dependent on his response, and so I am still under his power.  Whenever I make someone else responsible for my feelings, I lose control of my own emotional life.

I don’t mean to suggest that I have to sort out my own stuff by myself.  We often need the help of a friend who knows us well and accepts us as we are… not someone to “side” with us against the other, but someone who helps us understand ourselves better.  If the issue is not a powder keg, then I may be able to talk it through with the person who upset me, but the focus should really be on discerning my own wounds and needs, not on venting or “correcting” the other person.  The apology I want so much to hear may dull the sting but will not heal the lesions in my heart.  My heart needs comfort, acceptance, embrace—love that is enduring, unquenchable, unconditional, inescapable, unbridled, and passionate.

Mother-Hugging-Child

You Can’t Handle the Truth   1 comment

Last night Kimberly and I watched Beyond the Gates, a movie about the Rwandan genocide when 800,000 men, women, and children were hacked to death as the world looked on and did nothing.  It was terrible.  It was real.  It was a small window onto the depths of human depravity which ravage our world daily.  If you keep your peace of mind by sweeping darker parts of reality into a seldom-used corner of your mind, perhaps you buy happiness at too great a cost.  If the evil filling this earth does not burn in your heart and shape your daily decisions, you may be living in a fantasy world of your own making.

Frederick Buechner tells of his professor, James Mullenberg:

“‘Every morning when you wake up,’ he used to say, ‘before you reaffirm your faith in the majesty of a loving God, before you say I believe for another day, read the Daily News with its record of the latest crimes and tragedies of mankind and then see if you can honestly say it again.’

He was a fool in the sense that he didn’t or wouldn’t or couldn’t resolve, intellectualize, evade, the tensions of his faith but lived those tensions out, torn almost in two by them at times. His faith was not a seamless garment but a ragged garment with the seams showing, the tears showing, a garment that he clutched about him like a man in a storm.

To love a hurting world is to suffer with it.  Do you see this world as God sees it?  There is a reason the prophets of old, the seers, were mostly melancholy men and why the Messiah was called the Man of Sorrows.  Some of us by nature are more touched by the shadows.  It is not only the deep fissures in the ghettos and war-crushed countries, but the cracks in my own heart that torment me.  My own little hatreds and conspiracies, defensive moves and fear-driven words awake in me an understanding of and identification with history’s villains.

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

But I realized something today.  I am not big enough to absorb all that pain.  I can’t handle that much truth… I have to shut some of it out so that it does not capsize my little boat.  I want the brokenness of the world to inform my outlook, but not to cripple it.  I instinctively have known this all along and have protected myself from those things that have pulled me too far down, especially when my emotional reserves are low, but I felt cowardly.  When I dropped Facebook friends because their posts or comments were too disturbing or I avoided confrontation with family, my love seemed limited and weak.  Well, since I am not God, my love certainly is limited and weak, and I cannot demand of it more than I am able to give.   I must live within my means not only financially, but emotionally, because if I have too many overdrafts, I will crash.  My heart will always be touched more profoundly by the tragedies around me–it is how I was designed–so I need to soak my bruised soul more deeply, more often in the pools of grace away from the harsher sides of reality.

Posted February 11, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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