The strange thing about pain is how personal yet universal it is, and how quickly we can become accustomed to it as a natural state. Its presence isn’t welcome at all but we can learn to adapt to it.
We forget what our days used to be like before pain became the defining feature of our lives and minds. Pain can become so all-consuming it eventually seems to take on a life of its own.
For those of us who live with chronic physical pain, when it lessens a little it’s a rare, blessed relief. With nagging discomfort as our default condition, we might forget that pain’s purpose is to act as a protective mechanism.
And if we battle emotional hurt or mental health challenges, they produce long-lasting, painful effects too. These are just as debilitating as any kind of physical pain even if they might remain hidden and invisible to others.
In Celtic Daily Prayer Book One: The Journey Begins, Aiden Clarke and Andy Raine suggest watching (or imagining) “a crowd of seagulls in the sky” and to associate each one with the years of your life. As we randomly tag and speak out the years, we also verbalise how Jesus was with us in each one. They go on to say:
“Whether you knew it or not Jesus was alongside you in every year of your life, and able to see without any distortion, but with full awareness of our joy and pain. He is with us now. If, as you label the birds and name the years, any hurtful event comes to mind, it is vital to lift it up and let it fly to God with as much love as you can manage.”
I’ve found this imagery useful, although I’ve got a few decades to sift through, which makes for a huge host of seagulls! If you are similarly situated, it might help instead to remember key years when painful things happened.
That way we can pause at each salient point and surrender those events to God. The years that shaped us in particularly painful ways usually stick out in our memories like red flags.
The hardest part is in trying to send them off with as much love/grace as we can manage. It’s tricky to achieve with years that make us cringe and grimace, isn’t it?
How do we cope with living like this? I believe the key lies in acceptance. Of ourselves, of how we are situated right now, and our mixed feelings about it all. And in opening our hearts to discover God’s continual, comforting presence with us in the midst of our pain.
“To the degree that we have descended into our heart and reached out to God from there, solitude can speak to solitude, deep to deep, and heart to heart. It is there where love and pain are found together.” — Reaching Out, in You Are the Beloved: Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living by Henri Nouwen
If we can accept the way pain has made and moulded us into the people we have become, taught us things, and thrown us on God’s mercy and grace, maybe we can learn to be grateful for the part it’s played in helping us become more humbly dependent on Him.
We don’t have to drown in overwhelm or stay locked in a prison of pain from the past. Relief and release are possible for us. We can be set free to live more lightly in every way. We can become overcomers by our faith in Christ.
“Our strength grows out of our weaknesses.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Jesus sees into the depths of our broken, hurting souls and wants to help us become healed and whole. May we let ourselves be held and carried by Him while we rest and heal. xo ❤
“Pain is a forest we all get lost in
Between the branches hope can be so hard to see
And in the darkness we’ve all got questions
We’re all just trying to make sense out of suffering but
You say I am blessed because of this
So, I choose to believe
As I carry this cross, You’ll carry me
Help me believe it.”
— Audrey Assad
Full lyrics can be found here.