Tuesday Reflections: Obedience to Pain

Over the next couple of months, I'm offering Tuesday reflections on pain, healing, and recovery. I hope you’ll join the community of folks walking this road together. (To keep up with this reflection series, signup for blog updates in the maroon box in the left sidebar.)

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This is what it means to face the pain, and if you were to ask me how I feel in the quickening moments, I’d tell you that I feel abandoned, empty, sick.

~Coming Clean (October 16)

This is the fact of life: everybody hurts. It's a universal truth that's traced its way through all of history, through fine art, timeless literature and classic music. Consider Edward Munch's "The Scream." Consider Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Consider R.E.M.'s classic, "Everybody Hurts." (Perhaps it's a stretch to call that last one classic, but throw me a bone here; those boys from Athens know how to write a tune.)

The facts of life are the facts of life, and try as you may to avoid the facts, they are uniform in application. In the same way gravity sucks any weight downward, or energy is neither created nor destroyed in a chemical reaction, pain is a natural, unavoidable rule. Pain affects amoebas, fish, dogs, cats, and humans alike. Pain is the equal opposite of joy; it is one of the many byproducts of life.

If pain is unavoidable, if it affects us all, why does it cause so much shame? Why is it so often a hidden thing?

In the days since Coming Clean hit the shelves, I've fielded story after story of hidden pain. Good folks suffering under some weight--abuse, abandonment, self-doubt, lack of faith--confess to burying their pain, to numbing it down with some anesthetizing agent.  Enter the booze. Enter the pills or porn. Enter the pointer finger down the back of the throat, tickling past the uvula. Enter the all-night benders of the occupational sort. Enter the paramour. Enter whatever, whomever, whichever.

I ain't always too smart a fella; I ain't always the most observant or attendant. But here's what I know: when we're honest with our pain, when we explore it (even while praying for relief from it), we push into the way of Jesus. Scripture puts it this way:

"Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered...." (Heb. 5:7-8)

By confronting our pain we learn obedience to the life of Jesus, and in that obedience cut a path to God. (Isn't this the promise of resurrection?) C.S. Lewis puts it this way: "We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Reflection Exercise:

1. When you feel the pains of life (past or present), how do you cope? Do you make use of numbing mechanisms? List them.

2. Are you ashamed or embarrassed of your pain points? Why?

3. This week, consider calling a friend, priest, teacher, or therapist. Share your points of hidden pain with them.

4. If you’d like to discuss this prompt, along with other reflections, feel free to join the Coming Clean Insiders Group on Facebook. There, a few souls gather and discuss a range of topics, including addiction, pain, and the path to healing.

***TINY LETTER***

CC Austin OuttakesThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. If you sign up, you'll receive my free eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes. The Outtakes share the story behind my latest release from Zondervan, Coming Clean|A Story of Faith.

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Tuesday Reflections: The Problem of Pain

I'd like to begin the New Year with a series of reflections. I'll post a new reflection every Tuesday for the next two or three months. I hope you'll join the community of folks walking this road together. (To keep up with this reflection series, signup for blog updates in the maroon box in the left sidebar.)

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"I am a southern male, and so all of this talk about pain, frayed nerves, poisoned souls, and therapists is somewhat difficult. Acquaintances, especially my more metropolitan ones, tell me there is no reason for embarrassment, but as an over-generalization, we southern gentlemen are a bootstrapping lot. We like to believe we can lick any enemy. Yes, in the event of being snake-bit, we could tie our own tourniquets, use our pocketknives to make the deep incision, and suck the wound and spit to remove the poison." 

~Coming Clean (November 26, 2013)

It the prep-school school of Southern maledom, you learn this: ailments, financial woes, and the death of dogs are not the things gentlemen discuss in public. (The exception being if the dog was an exceptional retriever with wizened eyes.) Fact is--and this is a fact that bears being spoken--these were not subjects for private conversation, either. Neither the ear of the closest confidante nor the bosom of a loyal lover were meant to suffer a man's bellyaching, and by way of bootstrapping avoidance or willful ignorance, most pain was to be stuffed.

The problem with pain, though is simple: it hurts, no matter how much you pretend otherwise. You can try your best to explain away, drink away, or distract away the hurt, but nerves are real things. Once lit, they're as autonomous as bottle rockets. They do what they were created to do. They burn.

Over the christmas holiday, my son concussed himself by flying from a couch and into a sturdy wooden pillar. As the pump-knot rose, and rose, and rose, I said, "shake it off kid; you're fine." (My subconscious still tries to plug my boys full of southern toughness.) The consolation was nothing if not futile, and when the tears wouldn't stop, and his eyes glassed over, I took a different tact, began cracking jokes in hopes that the distraction might calm his nerves. Through his tears, he moaned "stop daddy," to which Amber added, "just let him hurt." Amber was right--don't we want our children to learn to express pain? Shouldn't we teach them how to listen to their own wounds, whether physical, emotional, or otherwise?

I wrote a few thousand words on the topic of pain; I even quoted Rumi--the cure for pain is in the pain. This being so, you'd think I'd have learned my lesson by now. But the truth is, I still employ my own coping mechanisms to avoid pain. And though I don't use the bottle anymore, I still try to shake-it-off, use food, or sleep, or sex, or shopping, or two-bit humor to distract myself.

You can count that last paragraph as a confession.

Don't our raw nerves, our pain points evidence the areas of unhealth? But isn't our natural bent to avoid taking inventory of our raw nerves?

The problem with pain is simple: it hurts. Even in the pain, though, God says this: I will never leave you.

 

Reflection Exercise:

1. This is a heckuva way to begin a reflection series, isn't it? (That's a rhetorical question.) In the stillness, consider the areas of spiritual and emotional pain in your life, even those you might have stuffed for years. List them on a sheet of paper.

2. Invite God into these areas of pain. I can't tell you what it will look like; but sit in the silence and give him space. Record what you felt (if anything).

3. If you'd like to discuss this prompt, along with other reflections, feel free to join the Coming Clean Insiders Group on Facebook. There, a few souls gather and discuss a range of topics, including addiction, pain, and the path to healing.

***TINY LETTER***

CC Austin OuttakesThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. If you sign up, you'll receive my free eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes. The Outtakes share the story behind my latest release from Zondervan, Coming Clean|A Story of Faith.

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Weekend Review: Artisanal Wood, Artisanal Water, and a Coming Clean Steal

Welcome to the first non-holiday weekend of 2016. Non-holiday weekend, I say, which means a weekend to recover from family, from travel, from the thirty-pound-a-day sugar habit that's been developing since Thanksgiving. It's time to recover from vacation, maybe take a few baby steps toward your New Year's resolutions. Today's a budget day for me, a day for running, a day for setting up that thing that I've been meaning to set up for the last six months. And as crazy as this may sound, I'm looking forward to getting back to the household grind. (Too much vacation makes you soft around the middle, see.) But before I hit the bricks, let's take a look at few good links.

A FEW GOOD WEEKEND DISTRACTIONS

Last month, Coming Clean was awarded Christianity Today's Award of Merit in the category of Spiritual Formation.  It is an honor, and a humbling one at that. And this week, you can grab an e-copy of Coming Clean for only $1.99! Take advantage of this bargain on Kindle or Nook. (If you'd like to help spread the word about this deal, click here to tweet!)

Speaking of eBooks, do you follow Modern Miss Darcy's Kindle deals? This week's selections include a few great books, including Coming Clean. While you're at her place, signup to receive her Kindle deals in your inbox.

John Blase wrote a heckuva poem this week, a poem that channels the spirit of Bill Holm, 40's tunes on the radio, and rhubarb pie. Did I say it's one heckuva a poem? Take a gander.

I love a good small-batch, artisanal hipster joke. This is one of my favorites from 2015, and I can't stop watching it. If you don't giggle, you ain't human.

And if you liked that, meet world-class water makers, the Timmy Brothers.They're putting the peninsula in your mouth without any strain on the environment.

Finally, enjoy this visual representation of Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself," hosted at The Atlantic. It's one of my favorite things this week.

Thanks for reading along this week. Now, let's get to those resolutions!

***TINY LETTER***

CC Austin OuttakesThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. If you sign up, you'll receive my free eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes. The Outtakes share the story behind my latest release from Zondervan, Coming Clean|A Story of Faith.

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10 Gifts (A Christmas Micro-Giveaway)

If there's anything I've heard about my book, Coming Clean, it's this: "I bought this book for the alcoholic in my life, but as I read, I found it was actually a book for me." Don't take my word for it, though.

"When you open this book, your index finger may be pointing at someone else. By page 2, you realize its pointed directly at you." ~Kathryn Stephens, via Amazon.

"When I first heard of Coming Clean by Seth Haines, I figured I wouldn't connect with the book. After all, I'm not an addict. But, as Haines says in his invitation, we are all addicted to something. This book isn't about addiction but about the human experience." ~Annie, via Amazon.

I hope Coming Clean is a more universal book, that it tells some truth of the human experience. Even more, I hope Coming Clean is a book that starts micro-conversations about pain, addiction, healing, and the very real presence of the abiding God.

What is a Micro-Conversation?

We live in a Big Idea world, a Ted-talking, media-grabbing, conference-gathering sort of place. We live in a place where the loudest ideas are disseminated the most broadly. Messages are beaten, beaten, beaten into our heads, and we buy them, often before we've had a chance to vet them.

The idea of inner-sobriety--confronting pain, rejecting addiction, and walking into forgiveness and healing--is not meant to be unpacked in that Big Idea, conference-circuit world. The idea of inner-sobriety (the coming clean from all addictions) is best suited for an authentic, smaller community, for firesides or dinner-tables, for back-porches and rocking chairs. It is best suited for tiny and continuing conversations, for micro-conversations.

In the micro-conversation, we look into each other's eyes. In the micro-conversation, we field confessions, dry tears, walk from isolation and into accountable community. The micro-conversations facilitate healing. At least, that's been my experience.

Step Into the Micro-Conversation.

When the good folks at Zondervan asked my hopes for Coming Clean, I said, "I hope it starts a few tiny conversations." Today, I'm putting legs to that hope.

Coming Clean is a book that unpacks well wherever two or more are gathered. In other words, it's a good community read. Discuss it in community. Journal your own path to coming clean in community. Community is key--see? (See Eph. 5:18-19)

And to help you start your own micro-conversation, I'm offering a sort of Christmas giveaway.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

For the first ten people who order a copy of Coming Clean TODAY (Amazon, Barnes & Noble), I'll send you an additional, totally free, and possibly signed copy. (Date-stamped proof of purchase required.) It's my hope that you'll use this free copy to start your own micro-conversation, whether with a friend, in a book club, in a church group, or around your dinner table.

If you order your copy, FOLLOW THIS LINK TO MY FACEBOOK PAGE, and leave a comment letting me know. If you're in the first ten, you'll receive a free book! Think of it as a micro-Christmas giveaway.

Thanks so much for reading along, and thank you for reading Coming Clean. So many of you have started these micro-conversations, and I couldn't be more grateful.

*****

Coming Clean: A Story of Faith, is available. You can order online wherever good books are sold, or visit your local Barnes & Noble and pick up your copy!

***TINY LETTER***

CC Austin OuttakesThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. If you sign up, you'll receive my free eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes. The Outtakes share the story behind my latest release from Zondervan, Coming Clean|A Story of Faith.

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5 Ways to Reach the Addict in Your Life

Over the last several months, whether by phone, email, or coffeeshop banter, I’ve fielded this question: [tweetherder text="How do you reach the addict in your life? Here are 5 simple steps."]how do I breakthrough to my addicted [husband, wife, daughter, cousin, fill-in-the-blank]?[/tweetherder] It's an honest, unnerving question. The truth is, I’ve no answer for ushering the divine providence of God into the life of an addict. I'm no guru. Yesterday I spoke with a friend who’s walking out his own path of recovery. He’s one of the rare wise ones, proof that sometimes sage souls really do walk the Ozark highlands. We sat across the table, and he told me he’d been sober for more than 90 days. (Opiates were his bag.) We discussed the tiny ways in which the providence of God intervened, the ways in which God brought the craggy bottom of life up to our falling.

We chatted for a bit, and I decided I’d throw him the knuckleball question.

“When folks ask you what they can say to their addict friend or family member, what do you tell them?”

He smiled, shook his head. “Tell them? It doesn’t work that way. You know that.”

I nodded, smiled. “Yeah. Too bad, isn't it?”

Call it addiction; call it dependency; call it a minor problem. Call it whatever you want, but [tweetherder]an addicted soul can’t change what an addicted soul doesn’t have the power to change.[/tweetherder] (Stop and reread that sentence?) More to the point, perhaps, a sober soul can’t change what a sober soul doesn't have the power to change.* You cannot browbeat an addict clean.

It can be a disheartening thought. After all, don’t we all want to see our people walk into freedom? I’ve been considering this what-can-we-do? question over the last few weeks, and I think I’ve formulated an initial five-step action plan of sorts. It won’t be easy. It will take commitment, dedication, and the practice of slow speech. But I think you’ll find it might just work.

The 5 Step Action Plan to Reach the Addict in Your Life

1. Pray

In the 1960s, French philosopher Jacques Ellul wrote extensively about the place of the Christian in the political arena. He reminded the French evangelicals of the day, that, the exclusive province of the Christian is prayer. Ellul’s thesis was simple: while the world thrashes about seeking political solutions, the faith-bearers are the only ones with the power to pray the great Kingdom Come into earth as it is in heaven.

Political commentary aside (the good Lord knows I’m not aiming to delve into politics on this blog), Ellul’s point is applicable in a great many spheres. We thrash, and we thrash, and we thrash about in hopes of changing our friends. We scheme and scheme, conjure ways to bring others to their quickening moment of sobriety. We plan interventions, ask our recovering friends to speak to our addict friends. And yet, how many of us pray—knees to the floor, face to the ground, hands on the carpet? How many of us retreat to our rooms, shut the door, and whisper secret, uncontrived, non-public prayers? (Matt. 6:6)

Are you ready for my confession? I pray far less often than I speak. Perhaps I have an addiction to pride, to thinking I can be the change someone else needs. Simply put? It doesn’t work that way.

2. Love

In an article entitled “The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and it is Not What You Think” (that title could have used an editor’s touch, eh?), Johann Hari demystified the notion of addictive chemical hooks. Walking through the science of addiction—the more modern, quantifiable science—he writes, “the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.”

Hari’s point—and it’s experientially true—is this: a breakthrough to the heart of the addict is possible when you love unconditionally and incorporate him into your community. Hari’s assertion has basis in the biblical narrative, too. In Ephesians 5, Paul gives his antidote for the sins of isolation and addiction, encouraging the addict to be involved in a loving, encouraging community of faith. (Eph. 5:18-19)

3. Pray

Pray again? Don’t worry. It’s not what you think.

It’s an easy thing to do—spend all your prayers on the addictions of your friends without turning inward. Let’s try a different tact, though. Find some space; sit in the quiet. Ask God, “show me my addictions, even if they’re socially acceptable.” Make a list.

Shopping? Working? Eating? Exercising? Escaping into entertainment?

Ask why you’re engaging in your own obsessive, addictive behaviors. Confess them. Pray that through exposing your own addictions, God might give you empathy for your struggling friends and family members. After all, without empathy for our neighbors, is breakthrough possible?

We’re all drunk on something. What’s your bag?

4. Love

Love again? Yes. Always love.

If and when the addict comes clean, there is a great temptation—the temptation toward I-told-you-so. How does it work itself out in conversation?

I tried to warn you six months ago, but you just wouldn’t listen.

Didn’t I ask you whether you had a drinking problem? Why did you lie?

I knew you had a problem; how could you not see it?

My bible-study group has really been praying for you. We just knew you had a problem.

In the course of my life, I’ve found that when folks don’t know what to say, they often say the wrong thing. (I’m not immune to this syndrome. I'm the chief of blabbermouths.) So often, when a closeted addict comes out, friends and family members don’t know where to start. I’ll give you a hint--it all starts with a hug.

Don’t say anything, unless it’s “I’m sorry,” or “I love you.” Give a hug. Ask if they need anything. Then? Love, love, love, love.

Love is all you need.

5. Pray

When all else fails, pray, pray, pray. Pray without ceasing. The prayer of a righteous man accomplishes more than any intervention ever could.

A Final Word on Interventions and Tough Love

This isn’t to say there won’t be times when intervention is necessary, or when tough love is needed. There will be. But loving well and praying hard come first.

Pray, love, pray, love, pray. Repeat it as a mantra. Internalize it. Then? Go in peace to love and serve.

*Word of disclaimer: I’m no therapist or addiction counselor. I’m just a fella who’s walked the road of denial, which as they say, ain’t just a river in Egypt.

***COMING CLEAN***

Coming Clean: A Story of Faith, is available. You can order online wherever good books are sold, or visit your local Barnes & Noble and pick up your copy! While you're there, check out this month's Relevant Magazine, which features and interview with me about Coming Clean.

***TINY LETTER***

CC Austin OuttakesThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. If you sign up, you'll receive my free eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes. The Outtakes share the story behind my latest release from Zondervan, Coming Clean|A Story of Faith.

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