Dealing with our pain

March 23rd, 2021

Some things wear my little introverted self out, and I just have to rest. Mainly, those things involve being with people. Don’t get me wrong. I like being with people. But, introverts like me expend tons of energy when we’re with others.

Besides, I feel and intuit my way around this planet. Despite the time I spend studying and reflecting, I don’t come at life from an intellectual distance.

Stick me in a room with a dozen or so people, give me a minute, and I’ll tell you the emotional temperature of the place. I don’t collect data and draw conclusions. I just sense it. It’s like my inner life gets hooked up by invisible cables to the inner life of the people around me.

So it probably makes sense to you when I say that faith, at least for me, is not first and foremost about thinking the right ideas about God. Faith is a sincere and intimate connection with and commitment to a person.

Faith comes down to sharing our life with a friend. In my case, that friend is the risen Christ. As the late Marcus Borg once put it, believing is actually be-loving. And Jesus was pretty clear about how to love him.

Shortly before the Last Supper, some Jews from the Diaspora—from someplace outside Israel—came to see Jesus. When Andrew and Philip came to check if he wanted to meet with some potential followers, Jesus reminded them what loving him was going to look like:

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.” (John 12:24-25)

As Richard Rohr puts it, we love Jesus by living a cruciform life. “Christians are meant to be the visible compassion of God on earth…. They agree to embrace the imperfection and even the injustices of our world, allowing these situations to change themselves from the inside out, which is the only way things are changed anyway.” (The Universal Christ, p. 147)

As is often said, hurt people hurt people. Our common strategy for dealing with our pain is to find somebody to blame for it. We try to fix our pain by causing pain in someone else. Instead of healing our pain, blame multiplies and intensifies it.

Jesus invites us to join him in the only truly effective way to mend our lives. The way of love. We can acknowledge that we are all hurt people.

When we recognize that my pain is our pain, we take the crucial step away from blame to compassion. To use Henri Nouwen’s phrase, we become the wounded healer instead of the wounded victim.

We love Jesus by loving other people. Real people. Without exception. In all the messiness of their lives. And, yes, that means sharing their sorrow and suffering as our own. Elsewhere, Jesus called this loving your neighbor as yourself.

Sometimes, this will just wear us out. At the end of a long day, we may have nothing left to give. Now and then, we will need a mid-afternoon nap, a long weekend, or a walk in the woods with our dog.

That’s okay by Jesus. He knows that love is hard work. We need a rest. And as it turns out, that’s an act of love as well. Sometimes the hardest one. The act of loving yourself.

This essay originally appeared at Looking for God in Messy Places. Reprinted with permission.

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