Pain and the Call to Transformation
For Holy Week, I would like to share a few thoughts on pain. Some of this comes from my book In Steadfast Love, chapter 16. I will include some reflection questions throughout this post.
Everyone experiences pain. No one is exempt from it. No one has the perfect health, perfect family, perfect friends, perfect job, perfect government, perfect church, perfect living conditions. Remembering that everyone experiences pain can prevent us from falling into a “victim mode.”
Richard Rohr tells of a woman who was obsessed by an injustice she suffered years ago. By her own admission, she had turned into an angry and negative person. At one point she blurted out, “My pain is my ticket.” Rohr says it was at that moment that he realized her pain had become her very identity. “Playing the victim gave her a kind of power, a moral superiority over almost everybody.” Playing the victim also excused her from having to do anything about her pain: “She didn’t have to grow up, let go, surrender, forgive—all the things the great religions of the world deem necessary for spiritual growth.”
Do I ever play a victim? Do I think my pain is so unique and so terrible that it sets me apart from everybody else? Do I assume that nothing can be done about my pain? Has my pain ever called me to “grow up, let go, surrender, forgive”?
God can use our pain to lead us to greater wholeness or even transformation. Kathleen Norris writes, “We human beings learn best how to love when we’re a bit broken, when our plans fall apart, when our myths of self-sufficiency and safety are shattered.” Isn’t this precisely what the Covid-19 pandemic has done to us? It has dramatically disrupted what is normal. It has heightened our awareness of how little control we have over life. It has separated us from our loved ones. It has caused many grave financial hardships. It has challenged us to find new ways to love—and new individuals to include in our loving.
What have been some of the greatest pains of this pandemic for me personally? Do those pains teach me anything about myself? Did Covid-19 challenge me to find new ways of loving? If so, how? Did the pandemic challenge me to include new people in my love? If so, who?
No one has the definitive answer to the questions, “Why is there pain in the world” Or “Why do innocent people suffer?” But we Christians have a person: Jesus. We believe in a God who became a human being like us and who knows and understands our pain firsthand. As Madeleine L’Engle has said, “Terrible things are not God’s will, but God can enter them with redemptive love. That is the promise of the Incarnation.”
John Shea reminds us that Jesus “lived without anesthesia. He was numb neither to the joy and pain of the world. He never developed defenses to keep both happiness and sorrow moderate.” He experienced the pain of loneliness, misunderstanding, overwork, estrangement from family members, rejection by religious leaders, and betrayal of his closest friends. We reverence his most painful hours every time we reverence his image on the crucifix.
This week is the perfect time to reflect on the sufferings of Jesus. We can do this simply by gazing upon a crucifix or reading an account of the passion or attending (even if virtually) the beautiful Holy Week services. As we do this, let us be amazed not only at what he suffered, but also let us be amazed at how much he loved. And how he did not return hatred for hatred or violence for violence. And how he forgave those who were putting him to death. And how he entrusted all to Abba, his Father.
At the same time, let us reflect on the sufferings of the Body of Christ, God’s people in today’s world. Who is carrying a cross that I might help shoulder? Who is being persecuted, bullied, denied their dignity and rights as children of God? How might I get involved to help them? Who in my family or neighborhood could simply use my attention or my appreciation? How might I express these?
I want to wish all of you and very blessed Holy Week…
Our video is Deborah Govenor’s beautiful “Remember Me.”
Thank you for reading “Sunflower Seeds”!
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