Acknowledging the Pain

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Ever felt like this? As Christian workers often living miles or oceans away from friends and family, it’s easy to feel isolated.

We may or may not have a supportive team., and we’re not likely to share the dark nights of the soul with our supporters for fear of losing their support or being seen as incompetent.

Before transferring from France to Germany, I attended a retreat where I was confronted head-on with my denial of pain.

The first assignment was to chronicle the changes, worries, criticisms, conflicts and crises we had endured in ministry. Sounds pretty depressing, right?

Sensing our thoughts, they told us we were already talking about our victories. That’s what our circles wanted to hear.

But on the other side of the fairytale was a darker world that needed exploring. If we wouldn’t let God get close enough to touch and heal our wounds, how could we lead anyone else closer to Him?

As I started recounting the not-so-pretty segments of my journey, I was overwhelmed. I would find an isolated piece of lawn, journal and bawl my eyes out.

When I couldn’t write anymore, I would just listen to music and let the tears fall.

By week’s end, I’m pretty sure my tears could have filled at least a travel-sized bottle of saline solution.

Why did sorrow suddenly overtake me? Namely, because I had suppressed it.

It felt too terrifying to share my trauma. I feared the lies I had been told about myself might be true. I was afraid of what God might ask me to do. And more than anything, I was afraid of falling apart.

So instead, I told myself, “It’s not that bad.” And eventually I believed it.

Yet when I look at the example of Jesus, I see a man who expressed his emotions freely.

Jesus didn’t say on the cross, “God, this kind of hurts. Do you have an aspirin?”

Or “It feels kind of lonely on this cross. Could I have a hug?”

You may be laughing or rolling your eyes, but how many times do we feel bad about asking God for too much help (especially for ourselves) instead of being forthright about what we’re feeling?

Or what if Jesus had said something really pious like, “God, my all-loving father, this present suffering is nothing compared to the joy I will feel after I defeat death through my resurrection.”

Or, “God, as I now suffer, may I inspire those who will nobly die for the faith.”

These sound more like statements from the mouth of a saintly Christian superhero – someone who can handle more than the rest of us and always has an eternal perspective.

Now, Jesus was a divine and perfect supernatural hero, who had already experienced eternity. He could have said these things. But he didn’t.

Here are a few threads we should notice about what He did say:

1. Questioning motives. Many times as “professional Christians,” who take Scripture and righteous living seriously, we think that we can’t question God. Out of respect for His authority, we assume we must just accept everything He wills.

Jesus was well-aware that it was God’s will that He die. He had already asked for “the cup” to be taken away in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet, hanging on the cross, He still asked God why. Since Jesus was sinless, we know that his question was admissible.

2. Not mincing words. “Forsake” means to “give up or leave entirely,” “to renounce.”

Jesus knew that God had left him. That in renouncing the sin of the whole world, God also had to renounce Jesus and turn his back away from him. For the first time , the perfect communion that Jesus shared with God was severed. He was more alone than he had ever been. It was more than pain. It was excruciating pain, and Jesus didn’t hold back in letting his father know.

*******

How can we find this same emotional authenticity in our spiritual practices?

For me, this means my journal is a confessional where I hold nothing back.

If I feel completely alone, I say it. If I don’t know why God has allowed me to be stung, He hears about it. If I’m furious, I rant unabashedly.

Acknowledging my emotions isn’t easy. Sometimes, God asks me to love an enemy when I would rather remain bitter. Other times, God asks me to be still when I would rather fight. Still other times, it means acknowledging my weakness and asking for His power to be perfect in it.

In giving God all of me, I am assured that He loves me ­– faults and all. In questioning God, I say that I believe that He has an answer. In articulating my troubles, I trust God to be able to redeem them.

I am free to be 100 percent authentic, knowing that He will never forsake me.

How easy is it for you to admit (in safe places) how you REALLY are?

Photo Credit: Schjelderup via Compfight cc

19 Comments

  1. Grace L September 9, 2014

    Thank you, Danielle, for sharing so honestly. Your post today is challenging me to deal with some issues of being on the field. I can share some of my fears with my husband, but I have been afraid to share them with good friends back home. 

    1. Danielle September 11, 2014

      Keep moving forward with courage, Grace! I pray that you would find freedom and love as you share your fears with those close to you.

  2. Elizabeth September 10, 2014

    This has been something I’m learning lately. I react to pain by wanting to run away — an extreme form of denial! Run away from a situation or conversation, yes, but also, having literal thoughts of walking out the front door and never returning. Where does that come from? The feeling of wanting to get away from pain is so strong sometimes. I want to pretend it doesn’t exist, and that I can run away from it. [Newsflash: I can’t. I will take myself and my pain with me.]

    It was so good for you to highlight Jesus’ behavior here (both what he did, and what he did NOT do), because somewhere along the lines I internalized his words of “turning the other cheek” in a funky way and told myself I was not allowed to feel negative emotions. My husband just asked me why I thought that and if I got that from the Bible, that negative emotions, including toward a person, are not allowed. I guess my ideas/ideals didn’t come from the Bible, because no human in the Bible was perfect. My ideas came from Christian biographies, I think. Portrayals of Christians who are full of grace at all times, and even if they feel negatively, they never show it. And possibly, they came from my own imagination of what I think should happen. But I think I really messed myself up there.

    1. Danielle September 11, 2014

      Hi, Elizabeth! I agree that it is so tempting and feels much easier to run from the pain, but you’re right that we can’t escape it in the long run – we only internalize it and are destroyed from the inside out. Thanks for further debunking the myth that we can’t have negative emotions toward others. It’s so important to examine where these deep-seated beliefs come from and to look to the Bible for answers as you’ve done. Here’s to allowing ourselves to feel and express our negative emotions. God can handle them!

  3. Kimberly September 10, 2014

    LOVE THIS! I had a ‘stuff it’ season too. Finally the toxic buildup poured out of me (I hadn’t even realized I was angry) and was comforted that even King David poured out his feelings an anger to God. We are emotional, God made us that way. He is emotional too. It’s genetic. 🙂

    Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Scazzero was used by God to transform, but I too often get out of the habit. I like your journal ideas.

    1. Danielle September 11, 2014

      Hi, Kimberly! I read “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” as well. Yes, we are emotional creatures, and we see in the Bible that God and Jesus are emotional as well (like the infamous verse, “Jesus wept.”). We often can’t prevent ourselves from being exposed to toxic people, situations and environments, but we can choose how we respond to these toxins (and letting them build up is definitely not the best treatment, as we’ve both learned ;)). Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  4. Morielle September 10, 2014

    From an email my mom sent me this morning:

    ” let tears run down like a river day and night
    give yourself no relief
    give your eyes no rest”

    Her own translation of Lamentations 2:18. The Psalms and Wisdom Lit have been teaching me this year to bring everything, including pain and doubt and indignance, and say it all out loud before the Lord. Also to share it with choice friends and family. I don’t know how I could have got through this year if I had not learned to pray that way… I love the way you express it here.

    1. Brittany September 10, 2014

      Thank you for sharing this!  I needed it.

      1. Danielle September 10, 2014

        Glad it was helpful to you, Brittany!

    2. Danielle September 11, 2014

      Hi, Morielle! I love your mom’s translation of Lamentations. I definitely have gone through seasons that felt like that. It’s not easy to bear our souls before the Lord or those in our inner circle, but it is so freeing to know that we can be loved through it all!

  5. JulieB September 10, 2014

    The knee jerk response to pain is to somehow get rid of it!  Our natural reaction is to try and alleviate it in some way….medicate it…..whatever it takes to make it more tolerable. (This from a girl who is now facing a 3rd surgery in 3 months time!  I’m big on alleviating physical pain!!)    And yet when we think about it, pain is a good thing.  For those people who don’t have pain for instance, when they touch a hot object, they feel no pain, this is potentially a very dangerous situation.  God made us with pain receptors in our bodies to help keep us from doing damage to our physical selves.  Pain makes us stop usually and say ouch!  It is a safety mechanism.  However, pain ignored or stuffed can ultimately cause great harm to us both physically and emotionally.  Embracing the pain , acknowledging it and wrestling with it is what makes us whole.  Thanks for the reminders in your article Danielle about how Jesus handled pain and how He can handle my pain too.  Great food for thought!

    1. Danielle September 10, 2014

      Thank you for your insight, Julie! I hadn’t made the connection between pain and safety before, but it is so true!

  6. Brittany September 10, 2014

    As someone who has been experiencing deep emotional pain this last month, I am so encouraged by this post.  I’ve tried to not hold back my emotions but I am also struggling a bit.  I’ve felt God’s presence very strongly these last several weeks and He has poured out His LAVISH love on me in very tangible ways.  So I feel a bit guilty for still feeling grief and pain.  I know (and have heard many times over) the “saintly” responses to my grief, but I appreciate begin taken back to Jesus’ account and analyzing His response.  He knows my pain and according to Psalm 56:8, He sees my tossing and turning through sleepless nights and knows every tear I cry.  And as much joy as I have because of knowing Him and walking with Him, it’s okay to still feel the pain and to take it to Him.

    1. Danielle September 11, 2014

      Hi, Brittany! Thanks for sharing what you’ve been going through. I pray that God’s presence and lavish love would overpower any residual guilt you feel for your grief and pain. It’s true that God already knows all of our pain, so there is no reason for us to hide it from Him.

    2. Amy Young September 11, 2014

      Brittany, one of the lessons I’ve been learning the last few years is that we ARE far more complex than we give ourselves credit for  :).  So we can feel such, what appears on the surface, conflicting things at once. Flooded with gratitude at the tangible gifts AND feeling the pain of a situation, can paradoxically go together (not contradict or mean we’re not “Christian” enough). Don’t know where I got the idea we feel only one thing and that THE right answer. We feel many things … and they can be glorious hot mess :)!

  7. Cecily Willard September 23, 2014

    I know that I am a bit late on the scene, here, but I wanted to say that your words so resonate with me, Danielle. There have been a lot of hard things in these seven years on the foreign field, but I was so put out with myself for feeling discouraged.  Why couldn’t I rise above it all and be a strong overseas worker?  There have been two really devastating events, and after the second one I went to Germany to spend a week with a member care team.  My first assignment, like yours, was to make a timeline.  When I made the timeline, I saw more than two devastating events.  I saw seven years of pain and disappointments.  I had never realized how much pain had accumulated. And then I knew why I was having difficulty being that strong overseas worker.

    As for the first really devastating event, it happened at a time when all my friends on the field were gone or occupied with guests.  There was nobody to go to.  I was in more pain than I knew what to do with, and I felt, as never before, that God had forsaken me.  I wanted to cry out like Jesus did on the cross, but I was so afraid that it would be blasphemous for me to accuse God of forsaking me.  I think finally I mustered the courage to cry out to Him and to ask the question.  But what darkness I dwelt in during those days.

    1. Danielle September 23, 2014

      Thank you for sharing your experiences, Cecily! We do tend to put so much pressure on ourselves to be strong enough and pull through rather than crying out to God that we are weak and in pain. Your testimony inspires me, and I hope it will inspire others to call for help when darkness surrounds.

  8. Kathy Sande October 29, 2014

    Thank you Danielle, for sharing and encouraging me to be real with God.

  9. A Few of My Favorite Things (July 2015) | The Trotter Family July 31, 2015

    […] Acknowledging the Pain by Danielle Hance – This post was from Spiritual Formation week on Velvet Ashes. She’s honest about pain and suffering and uses the very words of the Son of God on the cross to give us permission to be honest with God, too. […]

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