Archive for the ‘pain’ Tag

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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Does Happiness Still Run On This Line?   4 comments

STILL STANDING... SORT OF

HOLDING IT TOGETHER

Yesterday I was so sick at heart I felt nauseous.  Life does not make sense to me right now.  My last few blogs show I am oscillating between anger,  faith, sarcasm,  acceptance, doubt, misery, hope… the only constant is depression, which drains my energy and darkens my outlook.  What used to restore my spirit no longer works.  “Happiness is a choice,” they say.  Balderdash.  You can decide your actions, and to some extent you can direct your thoughts, but you cannot pick your feelings like a vending machine treat.  Some folks find cheer in thankfulness or service or friendship, while others find comfort in meditation or nature.  You can keep an eye out for happiness, but it may not show up at any of these stops.  I don’t control it’s schedule.  I can only wait for it.

For some years now I have found consolation in discovering and working to heal my soul’s wounds, but I cannot get at the root of my current turmoil.  That process simply doesn’t work for me now.  Kimberly and I have also solved our conflicts by talking through our issues, but since we can’t make sense of what we are going through now, that approach doesn’t work.  When my emotional energy is dragging, I don’t have enough flex in my shock-absorbers to cushion the bumps, so I’m easily disheartened or hurt or agitated, and Kimberly feels it more sharply because she’s also deflated.  The proverb “as iron sharpens iron” has been profoundly true of us through the years, but during this season it seems often to be “as iron notches iron.”  We need to find a new way of supporting ourselves and one another.  I know we will find a way, we always do, but in the meantime it is painful and discouraging.

Posted February 7, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal

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Hard Living   6 comments

stormAs I said in my last post, I am stuck with God.  When Jesus got weird on his disciples (John 6), many of them left.  He asked his twelve, “Will you leave too?”  and Peter answered, “Where else can we go?”  Yes.  Exactly.  We’re in the middle of the ocean, freezing cold, living on bread, squatting on steel decks and the captain of the boat says, “Feel free to leave.”  And where would that be?  Trust me, we are not staying because we like it here.  St. Teresa of Avila once complained to God, “If this is the way you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few!”

As I ended my last post, this story in John came to mind, and I felt bad for not having Peter’s good attitude.  He answered Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.”  I heard Peter saying, “You’ve got it all–peace, joy, fulfillment.  Why would we leave?  We like it here.”  I was confusing ‘eternal life’ with ‘the good life’… spiritually speaking, of course–the delights of fellowship with God.  What was I thinking?  You want encouragement of the Biblical kind?  Acts 14 tells us that the apostle Paul was “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith,”  –what was his supportive message?–  “and saying, ‘Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.’”  What ever happened to “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands”?

happy baby

Jesus’ message was loony: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life.”  These are the “words of eternal life” to Peter?  Everyone was stumped, and many left Jesus over this cannibal homily–“If we understand what he is saying, it’s a problem… and if we don’t understand what he is saying, it’s a problem.”  Simon Peter, for all his flowery speech, was just as baffled.  Had he known Jesus spoke of his own sacrificial death, Peter would have corrected the Son of God himself.  For Peter, this was the one thing the “words of eternal life” could not possibly mean–the cross.

I think in all his fog, Impetuous Pete spoke the truth after all.  There is nowhere else to go because these are the words of eternal life, even if it leads through more pain and perplexity than other roads.  Those who stayed with Jesus after this sermon did so in confusion, not clarity, but they found him worth trusting right through the dark.  Even Peter finally followed him to his own crucifixion.  That is the one serious problem with resurrection–you have to die to get there.

cross

Posted January 28, 2013 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Walking Blind   8 comments

partsI have been soul-sick for several months now.  But today I feel okay.  Both the pain and the relief are inexplicable.  I accept mystery… as long as it stays theoretical.  But I find practical mysteries at best annoying: where are my glasses, which street do I take, why is the car making that noise?  When not knowing is costing me money or making me late or (more profoundly) hurting my relationships or my heart, I become agitated.  For me, ignorance is not bliss, it is often agony.  My method for coping with a scary, unpredictable world is to figure it out, experiment till I get it working, find new configurations for the parts lying on the floor.  As long as I have untried options, I can keep hope alive.

TRY THIS IN THE DARK

TRY THIS IN THE DARK

But I seem to have run out of options.  I don’t know why I am depressed and I can do nothing to change it.  It is a mystery of the worst kind.  Mystery is just a highfalutin word for confusion, and being lost and blind does not make me happy, especially when I bash my shins every other step.  Kimberly is struggling in the same way, and it has driven us to our new year’s resolution or annual theme of life: be okay with not being okay.  It is our stumbling way of embracing faith.  It doesn’t light our path or clear away the rubble, but it is our way of handing back the situation to God: “We’ve tried everything, and it doesn’t work, so we’ll try to adjust ourselves to whatever might come.”

I commented to Kimberly in our prayer time two nights ago that I’m stuck with God.  If I thought I could find more peace with the devil, I’d look up his address, but I know leaving God would make me even more miserable.  I can make no sense of what God does, but I trust who He is, and for now that has to be enough.

Posted January 24, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal

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Escaping The Vicious Cycle   12 comments

Usually when I am absent from this blog for a while it indicates that I’m fighting to keep my head above the water.  For the last several weeks, melancholy has been dragging down my spirit.  I think I am beginning to understand the cycle.  Many folks suppose that depression comes from current external circumstances.  Certainly there are trigger situations that fire up an emotion, but if the emotion is more than brief and reactive, if it hangs on for some time, then something else is at work.  The feelings were awakened by the situation, but they are being powered by old, deep wounds of the heart.  A  pinprick will make little effect on a flat balloon; it is the balloon packed with the tension of air pressure which the needle will explode.  The power is from the balloon, not from the needle.  My melancholy comes from within, not from without.  It is my soul purging the muck from within.

The balloon analogy would suggest that all melancholy is from a single source, a single wound, but I have discovered countless wounds  in my own soul, a multilayered mosaic of pain.  It is a web of entanglements, and I can only work on a bit of it at a time.  Thankfully, life seems to bring these to my attention consecutively, activating the same emotional struggle repeatedly and so giving me plenty of opportunity to work through the issue involved before moving on to the next concern.  I say “life” because it is the stimulating events that activate the feelings, but I am realizing now it is my own soul that directs the progress.  I cannot reach the feelings below and behind until I have unpacked the ones above and in front of them.  My issues seem to come in layers, and a fear cannot be identified (for instance) until the anger or defensiveness covering it has been understood and worked through.

Unfortunately, I can’t figure out the basis of my current melancholy.  It has been very disheartening.  But even as I write, I am realizing a pattern.  When a new emotionally charged issue crops up, I cannot sort it out easily.  It has been silenced for so long that it takes time for it to develop a clear voice… or I could say that because the sound is new, my soul does not recognize the language yet.  The melancholy feels so repetitive, the same old misery cropping up again, stuck in an endless repeat cycle.

But the truth is quite different–as I work through each issue, it really does slowly heal and the next wave of depression arises from a different wound that also needs the healing touch of grace.  Perhaps I will never reach the end of this progressive redemption, in which case my depression will be life-long, but it is a great encouragement to know that I am on a path of hope and healing and not trapped in an inescapable morass.

That thought gives me the patience and hope to deal with my present depression.  It is not my failure or stupidity that blocks me from quickly identifying the source of my depression, and it is not a meaningless melancholy, suffering without purpose or benefit.  My soul is doing its vital work, and it will just take time to come to more clarity and resolution.  I have hope again.  Thanks for being there to listen!

Posted May 12, 2012 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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Shadow and Light   Leave a comment

In the Shadows

I was pushing my grocery cart slowly down the aisle this afternoon when I felt my soul stabbed.  This was one of those emotional spasms that spring without warning or excuse… sudden and sharp, making me feel physically ill or out of breath or as though I need to double over and grab my stomach from a knifing.  When your psychic energy is chronically low, even small things can cause a short-out.

Just now as I write, I stop to recall my shopping and identify where I got jumped.  At the entrance to Food Lion, I picked up the sales leaflet and wended my way through the produce and baking sections, making the cheapest selections and asking with each item, “Can we do without this?”   My conscious mind was sorting through ounces and labels, but down below that, economic claustrophobia started squeezing my heart.  Then I saw the ground beef.  After 5 p.m. meat is marked down, sometimes as much as half off (depending on how old it is).  At a 50 percent discount, hamburger was still $2 a pound.

That shock connected viscerally to my concern over whether I can make enough mowing lawns this spring and summer, whether it really was a good financial choice to buy a truck and mower (what do I know about lawn care anyway?!), whether Kimberly or I might have some major medical issue now that our health insurance has lapsed.  These worries intermingle with fears of inadequacy, poor planning, stupidity, limited energy… a hundred whispered concerns babble in the backroom of my mind, and when I don’t recognize the source of my anxiety, it is difficult to calm the muttering.  At least now I see what the clammer was about.  Why the fear?

I know God can be trusted, but living involves my (faulty) input.  It seems that however good and great God is, I can screw things up, make bad decisions, miss a turn.  God has his hands full to keep me from driving into the guardrails, and I never know when God might see fit to let me “learn my lesson.”  I tell myself that God is not like that.  He is full of grace and patience and protective care.  And I believe it… mostly… for now.  I snuggle up next to my wife, scratch my dog’s ears, and find the shadow lifting.

Light in the Woods

Light In The Forest

Posted March 12, 2012 by janathangrace in Personal

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  8 comments

I feel so very tired, weary of life, confused about how to respond in a healthy, soul-affirming way.  I’ve tried ineffectively to look for the root of my current depression so that I could apply grace to the wound, but it eludes me.  It seems that all I can do is learn to accept my condition with patience.

Posted January 16, 2012 by janathangrace in Personal

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