This is the second week of a six week series designed to help you ask deep, enriching questions that lead you to become more and more whole, more and more who you actually are in the world, and more and more comfortable in your own skin.
Each week, we’ll swim in the mystery of a unique question, designed to help you see your actual life with more clarity. Each of these questions are taken from Paula D’Arcy’s work, particularly Gift of the Red Bird: The Story of a Divine Encounter and Waking Up to This Day: Seeing the Beauty Right Before Us. Paula D’Arcy’s hard won wisdom has helped me immensely. The six questions are:
- Which lesson is life bringing me?
- Am I burying my pain?
- Am I overtaxing my body?
- What did I pay attention to today, and is that focus fruitful?
- Am I creating a life that is nourishing, or one that undermines me?
- Am I secretly clinging to something that distracts me or weighs me down?
You can read about last week’s question here. Let’s dive in the second question: Am I burying my pain?
My friend Matt Bays grew up with two monsters living in his home: violence and sexual abuse. From the age of 3 all the way to 13, his step dad waged a personal and devastating war on Matt and his siblings. Matt wrote this story in his beautiful book Finding God in the Ruins. This is one of my favorite lines from his book:
If you doubt what happened, wondering if it really mattered, let the pain be your litmus test. Where pain is present, a wound exists.”
Matt’s pain turned into raging alcoholism at the end of his twenties, because pain always finds a sneaky way to resurrect itself when we bury it without dealing with it. It also showed up as people pleasing and perfectionism. He was a much loved worship leader at a large church at the very same time that his addiction was spiraling out of control. The alcohol wasn’t the thing, though, as Seth Haines writes in his fabulous book, Coming Clean.
The pain was the thing.
So how do you begin to acknowledge the pain? How do you dig it up again if you have buried it? And why in the world would you want to? Here is what I’ve learned in a lifetime of dealing with pain, and walking alongside others as they do. I’ve learned to ask myself these questions:
Where am I medicating my pain so that I don’t feel it? I gave up my nightly drink during Lent, and it was harder than I thought it would be. I had to admit that I was using alcohol to numb something, and I had to go on a journey to discover what it was. I discovered what Brene Brown expertly writes about in her many books: We can’t selectively numb. When we numb our pain, we also numb our joy. Some of us use food. Some use alcohol. Some use excessive working out or making sure everything in our environment is in its exact, proper place. None of those strategies do a very good job at numbing the pain for the long term. Unresolved pain is like a beach ball that we try to keep underwater. At some point, when we grow tired enough, that beach ball is going to explode back over the surface of the water.
Who am I protecting by not admitting the truth of what happened? For most of us, wounds happen at the hands of our family or church system. This may come in the form of physical abuse, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse. Whatever its form, and however bad it was, there is usually a corresponding unspoken family rule that says we never, ever talk about it, with each other or anyone else. I have some friends who just recently broke away from a very abusive church. Abusive churches act a lot like abusive families, with unspoken rules that protect the abusers and make the victims feel like they’re the problem. So, to break the silence feels very threatening. It feels like a betrayal. We end up protecting our abusers because we have been conditioned to be afraid of talking about it. What would it feel like to break the silence?
What do I need to move towards healing? For many of us, counseling is a great first step. If you find a good counselor, s/he can help you walk towards your pain. Counseling provides a safe place for you to hear that you are not in pain because you are defective, but because you have been wounded. I have seen counselors on and off for over twenty years. I am afraid there is still some stigma about seeing a counselor, especially in Christian circles. I have been a pastor for 21 years, and when I walk alongside someone in pain, I frequently suggest counseling. I am not a trained counselor. I do not possess the skills necessary for someone to walk all the way through their pain. If you are dealing with significant pain, please consider a counselor, not your pastor. If you had a terrible accident and needed help learning to walk again, you wouldn’t hesitate to see a physical therapist.
Maybe your pain is obvious: divorce, abuse, death, or loss of a dream. Maybe it’s hidden – you know something is there, but you’re not ever sure what it is. I’ve had both kinds in my life. I’m holding onto the hope that God really is at work, at all times, making all things new.
In it together, my friends.
Thanks for reading my blog! My great passion is to use words to create environments where people can become who they actually are. Make sure to check out the following links to keep in touch with some of the other ways I’m using words to create space for people to grow and become. If you’d like to invite me to speak to your tribe, I’d love to talk to you about that. Just go here to get the conversation started.
This Good Word Podcast. I host a weekly podcast which comes out every Thursday. Every episode focuses on one ordinary word, as a way to reclaim what’s holy about our humanity. Sometimes I just talk into the mic, and sometimes I interview fascinating people. Take a listen here.
Beginnings: The First Seven Days of the Rest of Your Life. I published my first book in January 2016. It’s an imaginative look at the seven days of creation, as if they weren’t simply an event in time, but a process that describes God’s continual work of creating good in me, you, and the world. Order Now: Amazon | Books-A-Million | IndieBound | Barnes and Noble. It’s also available as an audiobook.
Genesis Covenant Church. I am the Senior Pastor at a beautiful, quirky little church called Genesis, where we rally around the idea that our job is to join God’s work of cultivating new beginnings in all of us, everywhere. Our sermons are interactive, done in the socratic style of questions which lead to more questions. You can check out our weekly sermons here. Enjoy! And if you’re anywhere near Minneapolis, we’d love to see you there.