Friday, February 10, 2006

How do we recognize pain?

I consider myself a pretty transparent person. I'll be open about my faults, and most people know that I am not a neat, organized person and that I realize I will never be a perfect wife who makes beautiful casseroles. People know funny things about my cat, and if I've had a good conversation with you, you'll probably know what I'm struggling with at the moment, or what wonderful thing has happened. However, with all that transparency, would anyone ever guess I was an insecure person? Probably not. Or maybe the truly astute would realize that my verbosity about my life is a way to fill the void of silence.

The reality is that everyone hides things about his or her life. And maybe "hides" is not necessarily the right word. I think most people wish others knew the secret things about them; they just don't know how to express it, or they dream of a friend who will see them so clearly that all is understood without a word being spoken.

At the moment I am thinking about people who hide pain. So I suppose I'm thinking about everyone. We all push the pain we feel way down inside so no one knows about it. Sure, there are those who tell you every ailment that's befallen them, but that's not their real pain. The real pain might be loneliness, fear that their husband is cheating on them, or that life just feels like it's falling apart.

The world is painful, and everyone in it is in pain. Yet we've created an environment (a "Christian" environment, mind you) very hostile to pain, especially the pain of other people. To hold in pain means stress, sickness, and emotional suicide. To let it out means, sadly, much the same. How do we react when someone comes to us with a pain in their life? If not outwardly, inwardly we cringe.

"This is not what I need in my life right now! I don't want this complication of dealing with someone else's problems!"

Don't we think that? Admit it. You're selfish, and so am I, and we've made ourselves too busy to deal with our own problems, much less the problems of others. What a testimony to the love and sacrifice of Christ. Ugh. Sometimes I think of the depravity of man--of myself--and I want to puke.

So what should we do? It's true that "bearing one another's burdens" is a complicated issue. How do we know that people are in pain in the first place? Well, it's kind of like evangelizing; we dream of the day someone walks up to us and says, "You're different. How can I get what you have?", we explain the Roman Road (and remember all the verses) and that person accepts Christ on the spot. But that doesn't happen very often. And in the same way, people won't approach you about their pain. It must be proactive on your part. Truly listen to others with prayer and petition, that your heart could be open to hear their cries.

Realize that I haven't said, "Go out and get the dirt on all your friends." The point is not to be in the know, but to help someone fall on Christ. Be aware of your motives as you seek to help someone. Recognize also when God has laid a specific person on your heart. "Pray without ceasing" when walking the road of a comforter. After all, it's not you who is comforting, but Christ our Comfort ministering through you.

When you realize someone is in pain, how do you deal with it? Amazingly enough, all is not solved with a chicken casserole and apple pie (or more likely in my case, a sack of Taco Bell). Sometimes a meal is exactly what someone needs, and sometimes it isn't. There's not a hard and fast rule about how to deal with someone's pain. As a matter of fact, I'd be surprised if there were even two situations that could be dealt with in the same way. Every situation is different. But each can be approached the same way--with humility and grace. You have your own problems and mistakes, you won't be able to help others without the miracle of Christ working in you, and forgiveness is for everyone, not just for the ones with little sins.

One temptation is to pull out too quickly. Drop your casserole at the stoop and run. A note in the mail, a chat over coffee and then it's done. That's like taking a Tylenol for cancer. Healing is a process, and if you've been called by God to help a person through the healing process, then you're in it for the long haul. You are committed. When it gets tough is when you really know that it's not your strength that heals, but God's.

Of course, there are complications. We look to God's Word to learn how to deal with the unrepentant brother, etc, etc. But sometimes I think we use that as an excuse to give up too quickly. In my current experience with weight training, I have to rate how hard I push myself with every set of weights I do. I know from how I rate myself that I think I work a lot harder than I do. I think, "Whoo, ten pounds! That was a killer!" and then I watch others push and push until they can't push any more.

I want to be like that. I want to have that drive as a Christian. I want to push and push until the day I die. I want to be spent of myself so that there's nothing left but Christ, my Fulfillment. I want to sacrifice until it hurts, because there is no other kind of sacrifice. And if that means doing things out of my comfort zone, or sticking with a friend way after it got tough, then that's what I want to do.

Pain is not a personal problem. The pain of a fellow Christian is a call to heal the wounded. The pain of a non-believer is a call to save the dying.

This is our call. Are we listening?


  1. How often we (I) back out of helping someone, because of fear of how it might negatively affect us....or go only halfway into it, trying to not get in too deep to someone else's problems. Lord, forgive us....

  2. Ahh...the "S" word...sacrifice. Not only are we called to sacrifice our will, our plans, but also our emotions and time. Only then can we minister to others in pain. My students hurt inside a lot. Sometimes they need someone to listen, sometimes a scripture to guide them, but whatever it is, I try to be sensitive to the Spirit in providing comfort (even in the midst of a math lesson :) ). And God responds! He steps in and sends the Comforter to minister to the situation. Amazing I can see that in an ordinary classroom or Sunday School room. God is so good to let me in on what He does!

    The bad news...pain is always with us. The good is Jesus!

  3. Well said, Lydia. Thanks for these challenging and encouraging thoughts. They are a great reminder of how much we need to be in tune with the Spirit so we can be in tune with others needs. When God lays someone on our heart, it's always from Him, and it's always for a reason.

  4. Lydia, I don't know you, but Brittney told me I needed to read your post. She was right indeed! I was struck with the truth that I feel too burdened with other's pain and therefore, try to send a quick fix and move on. I also realized that in an especially difficult time in my life, I have been especially prideful and hidden with the pain I am carrying. Not to say that I need to expose it for all to see, but perhaps I need to allow myself to become more vulnerable and open about where I'm hurting and what is going on.
    Thank you for taking the time to so eloquently put your thoughts on 'paper'.

  5. When you talked about inward pain, I tried to evaluate myself and maybe the problem is that I don't have any pain at the present, or maybe that's a good thing. I don't know right now. I'm burdened to be what I'm not right now in many aspects, my field, my "future" family? Maybe I have more of a dissatisfaction in where I'm at in my walk. But isn't that a good thing, to want to improve & know Christ better? Or, maybe I'm like every other female in the world that's trying to get better energy levels in exercising more consistently, avoiding those emotional cravings, yet enjoying chocolate b/c of the female I am. There's two sides to everything. I can reach out, but what if there's no response. Time & time again. Never fret, TRY!

  6. I think there are many levels to inward pain. Some is very deep, while some can be more of that constant feeling of worry that maybe you can't quite put your finger on.

    The point is that we all hide things about ourselves. We may not call it pain, but there's a reason we hide it. And we shouldn't. When ugliness comes out in a Christian, it's to reveal it to others who will hold each other accountable.

    For example, I mentioned that I am not a neat person. And I'm not. However, I would never want someone to really know how I live sometimes. My mom was (inwardly) horrified when I wanted to leave a mound of very dirty dishes in the sink overnight. I didn't tell her I've left them before for much longer than that! But that is an issue I have. Cleanliness is a sign of discipline and responsibility, and I need people to keep me accountable for it. But if I don't let others know that I'm struggling with it, then I will never change.

    And what if you reach out and there is no response? There is always a response, because we always have Christ reaching out to us. It may not be the flesh and blood that we think we need at the moment, but Christ is the All-Sufficient One, and we need nothing else.

  7. I'll tell you about some funny pain I had this week.

    Went shopping for a new strapless bra for my honeymoon. In the Target dressing room, and as I put the bra on, the hook closure in the back scrapes my hand, only I don't realize it until I take the undergarmet of and see the blood smears all over it. Needless to say, I bought the bra,