Unfortunately we all experience pain in some form or fashion at some point in our lives. Sometimes its physical and other times its emotional, sometimes its slight and other times its deep, and sometimes the recovery time is quick and sometimes we are unsure if we can ever recover. Many of the challenges with emotional pain boils down to the fact that you can’t see it…Other people may not recognize you are in pain because they don’t see the injury. When are you “better”? What’s the time frame for my pain?
Americans in general do not culturally have a protocol for emotional pain, which leads to a lot of confusion, bitterness, prolonged depression, and deeply repressed feelings. There is sometimes even a stigma surrounded by longer times of recovery. We may feel rushed by other people to “get over it” or maybe you just want to return to normal and move on as quickly as possible without taking a deep look inward at the damage that was done.
Other cultures, including cultures in the Bible had and have protocols for mourning. The amount of time you spent mourning depended on the nature of the relationship. If it was a parent, a spouse, or your own child would determine how long you mourned. The Bible talks about wearing sackloth and ashes (2 Samuel 3:31), and they would tear their clothes. Everyone who saw you would know that you were mourning, your external appearance reflected the internal turmoil. In some cultures you cover the mirrors in your house and you sit on the floor and not on chairs, other cultures you wear white and you shave your head.
I feel life would be so much easier if we could wear something that told ourselves and others when we are in recovery. Not so people can pity you but rather just to say, “please have patience with me.” As Christians there is sometimes a pressure to always be happy. We may feel we are being a “bad” Christian if we feel sadness, anger, or pain. But really feelings are just an indicator of what is going on deeper inside. In fact Jesus cried when his friend Lazarus died (John 11:35), he felt sorrow in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46), he was mocked, physically harmed, his friend betrayed him, and others denied even knowing him and went into hiding. The Bible doesn’t say that he smiled and skipped around at the idea of his friend passing, it says he wept. He didn’t excitedly go to his execution on the cross. Pain, anger, sadness, etc. are all viable emotions and indicate that we are in working order (there might be an issue if you never experience sadness, anger, pain, etc.). It is ok to feel sad when you lose something or someone, it’s ok to not feel happy when someone breaks up with you, its understandable to feel upset if you lose a job.
At a difficult time in my life, a wonderful friend of mine (who is a family counselor and a pastor) told me something that truly set me free. My friend said, “I know this may seem weird, but sometimes we need this. I want to give you permission to feel bad right now. You have permission to not feel ok.” I felt a huge weight lift off of me. It occurred to me in that moment that I was depriving myself of feeling bad because I wanted to seem strong and because I was a leader. I felt I couldn’t allow other people to see my pain. I feel acknowledging my pain and allowing myself to feel what I needed to feel allowed me to actually recover sooner and with greater closure than if I hadn’t.
The first step of what to do with your pain, would be to acknowledge that you have experienced or are experiencing pain. During a tumultuous time in my life I felt G-d say to me, “don’t pick at something that is trying to heal.” I hadn’t even recognized that there was an injury that needed healing. I was just internalizing the pain and thought that I was doing a bad job which just made me feel worse.
Secondly if you don’t know already, find out the source of your pain. That may sound weird, why wouldn’t you know the source? But you would be surprised how often we misdiagnose our pain. I went to the chiropractor because I had extreme pain in my neck and I couldn’t even turn my head slightly in any direction. I was convinced my pain was in my neck but it turned out I had a pinched nerve in the middle of my back that just so happened to be connected to the nerve in my neck. Sometimes the source of your pain isn’t what you think it is. It could be a million things added up, it could be related to an insecurity, or it could be exactly what you think the source is.
The third step is to be gentle with yourself and allow healing. Give yourself the time and the space to feel crummy, and to not feel awesome. It takes time to recover and a rushed recovery doesn’t allow for proper healing. Sometimes we will even add busyness to our lives so we don’t have to acknowledge our feelings. We often rush through the difficult times and fill up silence with stuff, music, tasks, social media, people, anything that will keep us from having to face how we really feel.
The fourth and most important step is to turn to G-d. Allow Him to speak to you, to be the Prince of Peace, to be the Mighty Counselor, to be your Abba Father. In times of pain we have the choice to turn to Him or away from Him. Time spent with G-d in our darkest times brings greater and longer lasting healing. He leads us to freedom by forgiving those who may have injured us. Sometimes He may even reconcile your relationships that have been injured. The Bible says in Psalms 30:11-12b “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever.” He changes our perspective, He rewrites our past, He brings life out of death, and redeems our dark moments. I love how Joseph tells his brothers (who sold him into slavery due to their jealousy) what the enemy meant for evil, G-d can turn to good. Though G-d did not cause your pain, He can bring life and light out of it.
Q1: Out of the 4 steps, which one do you find the most difficult?
Q2: Do you have a past pain that you need to work through?
Q3: Do you need to give yourself permission to feel pain?