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.

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