Tuesday Reflections: The Problem With Pain (For Holy Week)

Most Tuesdays, I offer brief reflections, and for the bulk of 2016, I've been exploring the Problem of Pain. In the Church calendar, this week is Holy Week, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter. It's a week to look at the darkest hour--the hour humanity murdered God--but it's also a time to explore the promise of pain. (Psst--resurrection is coming.) Come along?

***

The Christ rode in on an ass's foal, the people lining the streets, shouting "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!" King, King, King, they shouted, murder in their hearts even then. Jesus was a dead man walking; he was welcomed by the praises of the would-be lynch mob. He knew this, even then.

After the parade, Jesus shared a private moment with his disciples. "Truly, truly," he said, "unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." Death and fruit; parent and offspring--this is the way of life.

I'm considering this passage of Scripture today (undoubtedly because it is the scheduled lectionary reading), and it's an unpleasant contemplation. Pain? Death? The truth is, I'd rather like to spend the bulk of my life avoiding pain. The crush of the job, the death of a loved-one, cancer, mental instability, abuse--these are only some of the daggers life has to offer. And aren't we taught to avoid the seedy bars, the biker rallies, the places where daggers might be slid through our ribs?

Life isn't that plain and predictable, though. Life hides behind every bush, jumps from alley shadows and stabs with impunity. Pain--even death--is unavoidable. It is a natural part of the life cycle.

But here come the words of Jesus. Pain, he says, is fertile soil. It is the cracking of the coat, the pushing of new life through splitting seed. It is a path--the path walked by Christ himself. Pain and death bring resurrection if we let it.

Easter is coming. Resurrection, too. They always do.

Reflective Exercise:

1. Identify a present pain point in your life. Write it on a piece of paper.

2. Consider how living into this pain, how accepting it as a gift might allow you to see with new eyes. Consider how it might bring you new life, or at least a new perspective on life.

3. How will you use this pain, and the resurrection from it to help others who might be a step behind you on the road of life? Write your answer to this question and keep it in a safe place. Revisit it from time to time.

***Tiny Letter***

Thanks 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(And if you'd like to donate $.99 per month to keep this blog and the Tiny Letter rolling, click here.)

powered by TinyLetter

Tuesday Reflections: The Lenten Fast (Part 2)

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.)

***

There are ways around this sort of living, yes. We can avoid the pain of the past, the confrontation of any of our accusers. We can numb everything as a way to avoid exploring our histories, to avoid the necessity of mustering a forgiving spirit. Alcohol was my best anesthesia, but any addiction will do. I don’t have to tell you yours.

Coping is easier for a season, isn’t it? The best medicine for the pain, though, is to extend the forgiveness of Christ.

~Coming Clean, December 7

***

We walked into Lent last week, and I outed my own Lenten fast, a fast from unforgiveness. It's not an easy process, this daily exercise of listing those who've wounded us, who will wound again. It takes a certain sort of crazy to relive the stabbings inflicted by our fellow men, to release resentment over the bloodying of our best, whitest shirts.

I suppose I could fake it. You could, too. We could talk about forgiveness in a hypothetical bubble, bat around the idea as if batting around the idea might somehow actualize it. The spoken word poet Buddy Wakefield says it best. “There are ways around being the go-to guy.”

This exercise of listening, of pushing into your pain and forgiving your wounders is hard work. You could ignore those who continue to wound you, could reach for the human salves, the best distractions--gin, chocolate, the midnight run or midnight porn. You can beat back the voices of pain by way of performance, or achievement. You could minimize the volume of pain by turning up the theological sound system, by creating constructs that discount the hurt. You could; couldn't you?

There are ways, see; there are ways.

These salves are a way around the pain, at least for a while. But where there’s cancer, a skilled surgeon reaches for the scalpel, not a Band-Aid.

How is your forgiveness list coming?

Reflective Exercise:

1. As you push into the practice of forgiveness, as you review your daily list, do you feel the coping mechanisms calling? Have you already skipped a day or two?

2. If you've been participating in this forgiveness practice, tell me: how do you feel after you finish speaking forgiveness over your daily list?

 

***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.

powered by TinyLetter

Tuesday Reflections: A New Kind of Lenten Fast

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.)

***

There is a universal truth in the human experience: we are all the walking bitten; we are all stung by our fellow humans. And here’s the rub: I’ve stung others along the way, maybe some of you.

Consider it: haven’t you felt the poison of the lying, cheating, abusing world? Haven’t those with well-meaning words wounded you? Hasn’t the venom of manipulation coagulated in your veins? Haven’t you harbored bitterness, unforgiveness, doubt in your fellow man, doubt in God? Hasn’t it become your best pet malady?

It is mine.

~Coming Clean, November 20

***

It's Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday--whichever you prefer. It's the day before the season of Lent, the season of penitence and fasting. That being the case, today is the binge day, the fill-er-up-while-you-can-because-you're-about-to-run-your-addictions-dry day. Don't you love Fat Tuesday?

You may know the fasting tradition of Lent, of giving up some indulgence in an effort to better fix your eyes on the divine. It's a tradition long celebrated in the Christian faith, in liturgical and non-liturgical settings alike. For some, it's the highlight of their year. For others, it's the bane of the liturgical calendar.

I've been considering my personal fast, and I've decided to come at it from a different angle. I'll keep drinking coffee, eating chocolate, and indulging my sweet tooth. (What good is it to torture the body but indulge the soul?) This year, instead of fasting from food, I'm pushing back into a practice I started in Coming Clean. This year, I'll practice fasting from anger, angst, and bitterness toward my fellow men.

If you sit in the quiet, if you contemplate the course of your history, do you feel the sting of your fellow men? Do you cling to the wrongs wrought against you by mothers, fathers, friends, ex-husbands, or children? Do you seethe with anger toward a boss or co-worker? You've had trouble with other humans, yes?

In this world you will have trouble--it's a promise. But here’s the tricky bit: in this world, you’ll inflict trouble upon others, too. How, then, will you receive forgiveness for the pain inflicted upon others if you refuse to forgive your own enemies, family members, and friends? (Matthew 6:15) This is not a rhetorical question.

It's Shrove Tuesday, and tonight I'll feast on pancakes at our church's second annual pancake supper. Then, I'll retire to my house, grab a pen and paper, and make a list of those who've caused me pain. I'll look at that list, allow the emotion to surface, and I'll pray the words "I forgive you," over each name. I'll ask God to help me release the emotions, to see each pain-bearer with divine love. I'll ask for help in fasting from anger.

[tweetherder]Would you join me in this fast?[/tweetherder]

Reflective Exercise:

1. Would you commit to participating in a new kind of fast? Would you consider joining me in the work of forgiveness?

2. Consider the times in your life when you’ve been wounded. Pick a specific example—perhaps the pain inflicted by a lover, child, your mother or father. Make a list of the individuals that inflicted these wounds. As new names come to mind, add them to the list.

3. Pray forgiveness over each name on your list, and commit to continuing praying the same prayer each day throughout the Lenten season (from now till Easter). 

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.

powered by TinyLetter

Tuesday Reflections: The Gift of 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.)

*****

"What if pain, what if the thing parents try the hardest to protect their children from, was the thing your child needed most?" ~Good Morning America, July 5, 2012

Ashlyn Blocker came into this world with the pushing pain of her mother, came screaming into this world like any other new life come screaming into this world. She was wide-eyed, sweet, and as she settled into her new digs, her parents noticed her quietness. She was so quiet, in fact, that she didn't cry when she was hungry, didn't scream when diaper rash spread across her bottom. Toddling, she didn't make a peep when she fell and knocked her head against the coffee table.

It came to a head when Ashlyn was eight months old. Her doctors discovered that she had a corneal abrasion, and what should should have turned her into a throbbing, screaming mess, didn't seem to register. That's when they discovered it--Ashlyn couldn't feel pain.

CIP--Congenital Insensitivity to Pain--is a genetic defect so rare, medical professionals aren't sure how many individuals it affects. And though insensitivity to pain might seem like a evolutionary miracle, a blessing of sorts, consider this: CIP patients cannot feel the sear of a burn, the throbbing warning of appendicitis, or the crack of the broken bone. They are often unaware of their injuries, suffer infections, or otherwise succumb to treatable diseases. Their inability to feel pain is dangerous, often life-threatening.

Pain, see, is a gift.

The curse of pain is also its present. The throbbing, searing, stinging, and aching shows the locus of injury; it is indicative of the place weakness and need.

There's an analog here in the emotional and spiritual world. So many of us would rather numb the pain or otherwise not feel it. In Coming Clean, I put it this way:

"When life slides its shiv into the soft spot between two ribs, when the pain shoots through every nerve, common sense dictates that we run to the doctor or therapist. Common sense dictates that we allow them to take it out and bind our wounds. Why, then, do we so often ignore the shivs?" ~November 2

If Congenital Insensitivity to Emotional/Spiritual Pain were a thing, I'd take it, you might say. But [tweetherder text="Without pain, would you know the locus of your weakness?"]without pain, would you know the locus of your weakness?[/tweetherder] Without the emotional or spiritual pain, wouldn't the machinations of your life be robotic, unfeeling? Without sensitivity to these sorts of aches, could you enjoy the pleasures of healing and wholeness brought by a good healing-and-wholeness doctor?

Emotional and spiritual pain show us our need for treatment, show us the need for a greater physician. And it's the tenderness of this great physician that makes life worth living.

At least, that's my take.

Reflective Exercise:

1. This morning, take an inventory of your emotional and spiritual pains. Where do you feel battered, bruised, or cut by those in your life?

2. Sit in the silence and ask God to visit, to bring treatment. Do you sense anything?

3. If the pains run deep--perhaps too deep--consider calling a therapist today. Really. Do it.

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.

powered by TinyLetter

Cynics, Celebrate! (Our reflections on the beautiful church.)

"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."

~Hebrews 10:24-25

On Wednesday, I wrote a bit of a self-indictment about presumptuous sins, the cynicism that is more than creeping. It's easy to nitpick the Church. You and I both know that to be the truth.

I have been told that the antidote for cynicism lies in many positions of the heart--mercy, peace, gratitude, joy, patience. But maybe all of these positions can be summed up into a more singular concept--grace.

Today I'd like to engage in a collective project, an exercise in grace giving. I'd also like to celebrate the church, the local one of which you are a part. So here is the collective question for today: what is the good you see in your local church? Would you share a short response in the comments below? It may go something like this:

This morning I shared a coffee shop table with John Ballentine. A friend  approached and shared a concern. John, without hesitation, started speaking to the air, to the Spirit who was all around. It was not uncomfortable; there were no closed eyes or raised hands. It was prayer in the moment. He learned this from the leaders of our local church. They have taught us how to be the body to each other, and I am grateful.

Your story will be different, but would you graciously (and lavishly) celebrate your local body? Perhaps you'd like to take it a step further and write your own blog post about the good in your local church. If you do, come back here and share the link with us. We'll make sure to check it out.

And while you're at it, check out Kimberlee Conway Ireton's piece, The Broken Body. In it she celebrates her local church. It's a beautiful reflection.

Are you ready to extend grace and celebrate the church? Who's first?

Photograph by silent shot, used under Creative Commons license.