A few random thoughts during this Lenten journey. A few weeks ago our church had a men's breakfast, and our topic was how pain shapes us in our spirituality. One comment made by our group facilitator, Doug Stewart (who has a chapter in this book), was that generally speaking, if we are not transformed by our pain, we will transmit our pain to others. I thought that was pretty profound.
So we talked about how we tend to avoid our pain or distract ourselves from it. Or we work to overcome or fix our pain. I commented that after losing my father to suicide, one thing that was helpful to me was rediscovering and practicing the spiritual discipline of lament. Walter Brueggemann says that the Hebrew psalms of lament were a way of ordering their grief and verbalizing their sense of loss and protest with how the world is and bringing these emotions before God. This certainly connects with Jesus' beatitude that blessed are those who mourn, who get outside what's going on inside, for the simple practical reason that unless we externalize our interior pain, we are not in a position or posture to receive comfort, whether from God or anyone else.
And something else that I observed was that when I was researching my grieving book, what came up over and over was that Western Christians tend to have a poorly developed theology of suffering. We see suffering as abnormal, something to be fixed or therapeutically overcome. In contrast, for the vast majority of Christians throughout history and around the world, suffering is simply a fact of life. And I think it was Henri Nouwen that said that our experience of suffering, pain and loss should help us have greater solidarity with the suffering of the global church, as well as Christ himself. That we should not see loss or suffering as unusual, but normative.
Anyway, I've been musing on this a bit this Lent. I was just at a conference where I saw a friend whose ten-month-old son also has Down syndrome; he was born last year right around our son Elijah's first birthday. My friend mentioned that our family blog, especially a first-birthday post by my wife, had been very helpful to her, that it gave her hope that things would be okay even if they weren't what she had anticipated for her son. So I was glad to hear that our experience had been an unexpected encouragement to her.
I'm curious - what do you do to prevent transmitting your pain to others? How have you been transformed by your pain, your loss, your disappointments?