When others do harm to us through their words, actions, or neglect we feel pain.
When we do harm to others through our words, actions, or neglect we feel pain.
When the circumstances of life conspire against us and we experience loss we feel pain.
Life is painful.
I wish it were not so, but this is just how things are.
In our pain there is something to be said for managing expectations. What do we expect from ourselves as we navigate loss and difficulty? What do we expect from others? What do we expect from God?
In the ancient Hebrew text called the Psalms, a collection of poems and prayers, the writer of gives us insight into all three of these questions.
2 Have compassion on me, Lord, for I am weak.
Heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
3 I am sick at heart.
How long, O Lord, until you restore me?
4 Return, O Lord, and rescue me.
Save me because of your unfailing love.
9 The Lord has heard my plea;
the Lord will answer my prayer.
First, in our painful moments it is right and good to be honest with ourselves about the state of our hearts. Perhaps you identify with the words, “I am weak.”, “My bones are in agony.”, “I am sick at heart.”
We feel these same versions of grief when we are harmed by others and when we do harm to others. Whether we are the cause of the one who was harmed is inconsequential to our initial experience of trauma. Often we judge ourselves too early in the grief process, beating ourselves up for the ways we have fallen short before simply allowing ourselves to fully feel the weight of harm either done by us or against us.
In either case, the first important step in our healing is to be radically candid with ourselves and name our experience of pain. Note that emotional and physical pain are linked. Sickness of the heart, that sinking, heavy, dark night of the soul, is so often accompanied by a visceral feeling of physical pain. I’m so often caught off guard by this dynamic in my own life. I look back on some of my more difficult seasons and recognize that I felt physically weak, tired, aching bones, and general malaise, just before I realized that I was also experiencing emotional pain of some kind. For me the physical symptoms of grief come before the mental and emotional ones. I know for others it can be the other way around.
The second step in healing from pain is to acknowledge the role of our helper God in navigating the fraught waters of grief. The Psalmist writes, “Have compassion; heal me; return.” As you think about your own current experience of pain and suffering, imagine the power of asking God for these three things. “Lord, have compassion on me in my weakness and suffering.” In this cry to heaven we acknowledge our desperate need for someone more powerful and good to come alongside us, to see us as we are, and to love us anyway. “Lord, heal me.” In this cry we acknowledge our brokenness and our inability to bring healing to ourselves. We need one who knows us better than we know ourselves to enter into our stories and bind up our wounds. “Lord, return to us.” In this final utterance we send out a distress signal from a dying body in a dying world, declaring that we viscerally know that things are not as they should be. We need a rescuer from outside of ourselves to come back and make all the sad things untrue.
Wherever you are today I imagine that pain is a part of your world. It is definitely a part of mine. But in Jesus we are not alone. In our grief, loss, and brokenness we can call out to one who knew pain intimately and knows us too. “Lord, have compassion. Lord heal me. Lord return.”