Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Permit YOUR Pain to Become THE Pain

What is abstract pain?  According to Nouwen, I don't have it.

He begins, Your feelings of rejection, abandonment, and uselessness are rooted in the most concrete events.  

My pain is concrete, but my existence, which is so entwined with this pain, is abstract.  Am I here?  Am I up?  Am I down?  Am I okay?  The concrete aspects of one's life should help one stand, not knock one down.

As long as you keep pointing to the specifics, you will miss the full meaning of your pain.  You will deceive yourself into believing that if the people, circumstances, and events had been different, your pain would not exist.  

I believed that last sentence up until this past year.  I looked outward to find the cause of my struggles.  I picked apart every year of my life and each event that hurt me and further kept me trapped in my misery.  What could I have done to prevent that event/relationship/mistake/choice which added to my pain?  Where would I be if (fill in the blank) hadn't happened?

This might be partly true, but the deeper truth is that the situation which brought about your pain was simply the form in which you came in touch with the human condition of suffering.  Your pain is the concrete way in which you participate in the pain of humanity.

My counselor has expressed this sentiment as well.  The pain I experience is my walk with Jesus, the One who ultimately suffered for us all.  She prefaced that with an "I know this might sound cliche but..."  It wasn't cliche; it got me thinking.  And now, as I sit here with my pain, I revisit those thoughts.

My journey is about moving forward, not standing still, dripping in the struggles of yesterday and today and the fears of tomorrow.  My journey is about healing.  I need healing.  Nouwen states with perfect timing, "Healing means moving from your pain to the pain."  Confused, I ask, "How?"  I thought I was replacing suffering with healing by meditating and analyzing the causes and sources of my pain. 

When you keep focusing on the specific circumstances of your pain, you easily become angry, resentful, and even vindictive.  You are inclined to do something about the externals of your pain in order to relieve it; this is why you often seek revenge.

Yes, I do.  I have done some very vindictive things to people who have hurt me.  And when I relive those moments of such anger and pain, I see that I have most hurt myself, and the actions I take out on others is really a reflection of how I feel about myself, the rage and disappointment that overcomes me each time I look in the mirror.  Relationships are my mirror.  This explains why 90% of my pain has shone through my relationships with others.

These thoughts and what Nouwen says next did not immediately connect for me.  "Real healing comes from realizing that your own particular pain is a share in humanity's pain.  That realization allows you to forgive your enemies and enter into a truly compassionate life."  My pain is mine, though.  My struggles are my own, created by me and because of me.  Maybe even for me.  To think my pain is that of the world?  Now that is abstract if you ask me.

Nouwen says, "...shift your attention away from the external situation that caused your pain and focus on the pain of humanity in which you participate..."  What pains are my neighbors experiencing?  I feel my pain is extraordinary to that of others.  Yes, this is true, but could the opposite be true as well?

I see that my counselor's hope for me to find community will enable me to know this truth, to see into others' lives and realize that I am not alone in my pain.  And not only am I not alone, but my pain is also minimal compared to that of others.  This truth will allow me to seek and ultimately experience grace, compassion, and humility.  This truth will transform my pain into a mere pinpoint on a map of The World's Pain.

I am not alone.  I can give my pain back to the World and allow the strength of Jesus and my neighbors to replace the void.

read more of my Nouwen-inspired insights here.

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