I sat, in the dark, hunched over, my fingers digging into the carpet as I prayed. I was never possessed of the ability to harm myself—at least not in any way defined as suicidal—but as I sat there, quietly weeping as not to wake my parents, I asked God to end it. Just thinking about this, writing it down, all these years later, and tears come to my eyes. The experience was so existential that its emotion seems to transcend time.
PAIN DEFINES US
In ways I don’t even understand, I am defined by the experience leading up to, and after that night. In ways that are both negative and positive, parts of my core personality were birthed out of that experience. Most certainly empathy, but also an unfortunate inclination for relating peace with drawing away from others.
I’m not sure about you, but I suspect you’re a lot like me in that when you look back over your life, the bad looms over the good, making it difficult to see it in its shadow. Our proclivity toward pessimism defines us as well.
A young man with a joyous outlook on life became an angry adult, tasked with fixing the world and its idiocy, only to become embittered by the fact that I could not change a single soul. I became so afraid of my feelings—so crushed by the world and my faulty expectations—that I pushed them away. I swept them away so often that I became numb. I have always been an unapologetic clown, but then I was an angry, unfeeling, bitter clown. But a clown nonetheless. And it’s difficult to tell a person is in pain when they can make you laugh.
PAIN EMBITTERS US
Hebrews 12:15 says that we should avoid a bitter root growing up in our midst. This verse seems to speak more of uncorrupted doctrine and heart than actual bitterness as we think of the word, but the acrimony and sullenness that comes with bitterness is, in my estimation, also a corruption of Christ’s law of love.
That misinterpreted verse was my mantra coming out of a heart-wrenching pastoral experience as I entered my thirties. But I watched myself slowly sliding toward bitterness, even as I begged myself not to.
Life events give us forked roads. Jerk that life is, it often greases the road toward resentment and self-pity (or maybe that’s me). Once you’ve gone down that road, it is difficult to find the other path. Even if you see that you should, and cut through the trees to find it, bitterness comes bounding after you, knocking you down and pulling at your pant leg to go back.
I often went back.
PAIN LEAVES US LONELY (OR DOES IT?)
Pain, whether mental, physical or emotional, leaves stark scars—some of which are even visible. I often wondered if there was anyone who could truly understand my specific brand of pain.
A high school teacher friend of mine told me about a student of hers whose parents are so rich that he simply can’t comprehend what it means for someone to not have money. She was startled by his lack of empathy. It once occurred to me to question if God could possibly understand what it means to be in pain. I wondered if the perfect God of the Universe, who knew no sin, just looked at us and shook his holy head, wondering why we just didn’t get over it.
Then I remembered Jesus.
Hebrew 4:15: “For we do not have a [God] who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”
That was an important revelation for me. It was something I knew, but it wasn’t a truth that I’d connected with on a personal level. God knows what it’s like to hurt. He knows what it’s like to be betrayed by someone you love. He knows what it means to grieve. He knows how hard life and people are.
The next verse in Hebrews 4 goes on to say that since we know we have this kind of a God—a God who understands, we should “come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”
Our God understands our pain, and so he knows exactly what we need, when we need it most. I don’t know about you, but for me, that means everything.