Took a nap today, and had a nightmare. For some reason all it did after I woke up was remind me of some parts of my life I’d prefer to not dwell on for too long. I almost forgot that I mentioned a little of this in my first blog post. It’s not often I’m reminded of those moments, but they always sober me up pretty well.
Few people can claim to have experienced genuine human friendlessness. Especially for an extended period of time. If you’ve ever looked at your cell phone and truly had no one in your contact list to text or call about anything not work-related, or if you’ve ever gone to sleep weeks on end without having one conversation with someone that was deeper than, “hi! how are you?”, or if you’ve had imaginary conversations with people that become so intense it feels like you’ve actually talked with someone and been shocked to realize you’re alone, then you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Welcome to my life 2007-2009.
It was a slow series of events that dragged out for a few years before, at one definable point, I had no friends. It wasn’t that I was a jerk, or that there was major drama involved. People moved away. I lost contact with some after graduation. Life takes us in different directions, and apparently I wasn’t permitted to have a traveling companion where I was going. The only people I knew were either clients at work, my boss, or my church family; who all lived at least 30 minutes away.
I spent my 21st birthday with my mom and dad at Applebees. I was hoping to have a party, but I could only think of 4 people who I was close enough to to invite. The first two were my parents, and the other two were spending that weekend with their young kids.
It was a time that was dark, lonely, cold, and empty. But I wouldn’t trade those years for anything, because I discovered something that has changed my life: there is a unique form of comfort to be found in deep-seated pain. I’m not talking about any physical pain, or your boyfriend/girlfriend of 2 months breaking up with you. I’m talking about the kind of pain that wracks you to your very core; that makes a home for itself somewhere inside. This pain comes in many forms, and this was one of those forms for me.
But along with the misery comes an unexpected warmth. It’s definitely comforting. It doesn’t make things easier to bear, but it keeps things from breaking you. It doesn’t numb the pain, or distract you. It gives you just enough strength to breath, enough focus to get your through the day, enough patience to make it through, and enough wisdom to keep you from becoming self-destructive.
A prominent 20th-Century theologian held the notion that the person of Jesus Christ, the true reality of who he was, was fully realized on the Cross. What he meant by that was this: the poor, the destitute, the maimed, the broken, the down-trodden, the prostitute on the corner, the homeless child, the murderer in jail…when you see these people you see Jesus.
Since my two-year ordeal, I’ve firmly held on to the idea that people generally have an extremely twisted view of discomfort. Sure, we declare that to be a Christian is to allow ourselves to be in uncomfortable positions. I’m not talking about being in uncomfortable surroundings, around weird people. I’m talking about internal discomfort. We avoid it. We have entire belief systems dedicated to this strange idea that, “if it hurts, it’s wrong. if there’s pain, avoid it.” Hedonism and Apathy are two main things I can think of right now that embody what I’m getting at pretty well.
I’ve seen this idea seep into the Church. It’s like God’s ‘out there’ somewhere on the mountaintops, ushering us to Himself. We see pain as moments of trial, and actually endure them for the sole purpose of coming out the other end of it a better person. Pain is just something to get through. Discomfort is simply one of the negatives to this whole “live like Jesus” thing. We dedicate so much time to finding ways out of pain.
I find this so unusual when I really take time to think about it. If we are, in fact, growing into people who will be like Jesus, and if the reality of Jesus is hanging on the Cross, then pain and discomfort of extreme degrees is going to become the identifying marker of our existence. The Cross is where the nails are. The Cross is where the blood-letting happens, where the spears pierce sides, legs are broken, throats are strangled, and our friends leave us. And therein lies our one point of solace: here is Jesus.
Christ came to earth to identify Himself with us. God came to earth and become a human. The only thing I have found to be the grand unifier is pain. The one thing everyone on the face of the earth can relate to is pain. Not everyone has been poor, or experienced “need”. Not everyone has experienced “wealth”. We’re all different nationalities, backgrounds, life experiences, skin colors, etc. But the one thing we all have in common is our shared understanding of “pain.”
Since we all know what pain is, and since we will all continue to experience it through our lives, I feel it’s important to keep reminding myself that the best thing to do in those instances where pain arises is to embrace it. That odd comfort in the midst of pain I talked about earlier, it only came about when I embraced my situation; when I accepted its reality gave up looking for a way out, but I didn’t ignore it either.
For a long time I believed that God really was somewhere else. Like I was in my demoralized position and God was watching, and He did feel my pain, but it wasn’t true association. It was like (and I don’t have experience with this, but I picture it like this) I’m in prison, and God stays on the other side of glass as a visitor, talking to me through a phone on the wall telling me everything will be okay. Truth is, that’s not how things are at all.
God’s not looking in on what’s going on. God’s right there with you in those times, sharing every single emotion, carrying every single scar. Literally, He is walking in your shoes. That is the comfort I find when i go through times like that.
Fellowship with God is the single greatest power we can experience, but it only comes when we choose to live in the reality of our circumstances.
Does it take the pain away? Nope!
Does it distract you from the pain? No
Does it make things easier? Not really
Does it make you happy? No, and sometimes it might not even make you joyful.
But, it is enough.
Yes, there are ways to avoid pain. There are things we can do to keep ourselves from staying “there” for longer than we would like. When we do that though, I think we miss an opportunity to see Jesus in a way we may have never seen Him before. Not that He can only be seen in those instances, but it’s a side of Him we miss sometimes.
Maybe some people are in a place right now they’d rather not be in. Maybe it’s a loss of a loved one, a prolonged season of some sort of situation you feel like no one else can identify with (and you may be right), depression… whatever it is. I encourage you to not look away. Where you’re at… it hurts. I know. Let it hurt. Cry yourself to sleep. Don’t try to convince yourself everything is “okay.” Everything is not “okay” – you’re suffering. I won’t even ask you to keep your head up. Just do one thing: never forget who is sharing your pain.
Obviously, I say all of this out of my own personal experiences. You always hear about the lights at the ends of the tunnels, the happy endings, yada yada yada. After everything I’ve gone through, I’ve come to this conclusion: The only happy ending is Heaven, everything else is just a series of transitions. So why is it we try to fool ourselves into thinking otherwise when times get tough?