Nobody likes pain. We do our very best to avoid it. We’re blessed to live in a time where there are actual remedies for pain and trained professionals who know how to find its source and make it stop.
There have been people, though, who’ve rightly pointed out that it exists in order to keep us safe. Pain is a negative reinforcement tool that helps us avoid things that damage us. When we’re too close to a fire the pain causes us to pull away and avoid the flames. The pain itself isn’t what does damage but without the pain we might not be so quick to avoid the fire. Obviously, this doesn’t make the pain good in itself but it serves a useful purpose.
That useful purpose trains us to avoid pain and run from it. Frankly, that’s a pretty good life lesson when it comes to physical things. Stay safely back from fire. Avoid the pointy end of sticks. Don’t let that rock fall on your head. This set of rules has developed with us as we evolved and it serves us well.
Sadly, what works with pointy stick and rocks doesn’t work with emotional pain. Emotional pain is something we’re not good at talking about. Anger, fear, grief, and guilt are all things that cause us pain and that’s not an exhaustive list. To be fair, we’re better at talking about such things as a culture than we were 50 years ago. It’s just that we often don’t give these feelings the credit they deserve as real and deep pain.
Whether we give them the credit they deserve or not many of us will still try the rocks and pointy stick strategy on them. We’ll avoid talking about it. We’ll try not to think about it. We’ll gloss over it. We’ll avoid the things that remind us. It’s perfectly natural.
For the record, I’m not saying that we should revisit the sources of our emotional pain. There may be very unhealthy and dangerous circumstances that caused that particular hurt and that need to be avoided. The feelings themselves though, are a different story.
The rocks and pointy stick strategy is actually counterproductive when it comes to emotional hurt. Avoiding our feelings does not make them go away. Oh how I wish that it did! Ironically, only sitting with them has any chance of soothing them.
This is where a follower of Jesus has something that others may not. We understand that God chose to go toward the pain. Not because the pain was good but because by inhabiting and sitting with the pain God could ease it. We know our God is a God willing to experience suffering. This may give us the courage to do the same thing. It might give us the courage to go toward the feelings of guilt, fear, anger or grief and to sit with them. To learn about where they come from and to let them go.
If we can do that for ourselves and sit with our own hurt we may even develop the courage to go to that place with someone else.