Sit with the pain

sitting-with-pain

Pain is one of the fastest routes to a no-frills encounter with the Holy, and yet the majority of us do everything in our power to avoid it.
– Barbara Brown Taylor

It happened last spring, but I remember it vividly.

Jeff grabbed the little stool and moved it right in front of the rocker I was sitting in. He sat on the stool, looked me straight in the eyes, and took my hands in his.

But he didn’t talk.

He was there to listen first, to understand (as best as he could) what I was thinking, feeling. I had already (falsely) accused him of not hearing me, not listening when I complained about a crisis of confidence, a doubt about purpose.

So here he sat now, with me, in my pain.

Who wants to do that?

Who wants to sit with even their own pain?

This month the spiritual discipline I’ll be focusing on is the practice of  feeling our pain.

It feels wrong. To willingly sit with pain. Any pain, whether in the body or in the soul.

  • Pain of rejection
  • Pain of insecurity
  • Pain of conflict
  • Pain of addiction
  • Pain of confusion

I don’t want to hang out with those companions.

But no matter. Pain demands, “Look at me!”
Both eyes. Full attention. Now.
There are lessons to learn.

•    You’re not as strong as you think you are.
•    Life isn’t as “fair” as you want it to be.
•    God doesn’t act like you expect him to.

They are hard truths, these truths that pain helps us grow into, even if for our own good.

I look back at my life-turning events—divorce, single parenting, deaths, church breakups, illnesses. My view of reality adjusted with each one: on who I was and what life was about and how God loves me.

Yet in each season of pain, God was sitting beside me. Taking my hands in his. Looking me straight in the eye. Letting me talk and cry and (falsely) accuse him of not understanding.

He was there. Changing me. Growing me. With me.

After Jeff listened to me that day on the stool, I listened to him back. He reassured me I was okay. And said many wonderful things (I’m sure), none of which I remember exactly.

What I do remember is that he listened, cared, and was with me in the pain.

Maybe we’ll never understand the “why” of pain. Or even the “when.”
But it’s the “who” that will matter.

Those who sit with us as we sit with pain are who we remember.

Pain will never be my best friend, but it leads me into the presence of one who is.

Immanuel.
“God with us.”
Always. With.

* * *

Are you stoic or a wimp when it comes to pain?
Who has sat with you in pain?

Is there someone you’re sitting with now?

Related:
When pain gets too noisy

More unusual spiritual disciplines here from An Altar in the World:

27 thoughts on “Sit with the pain

  1. Dianna

    You are so right, Lisa…there are many kinds of pain, both emotional and physical. The quote you used at the beginning of this post is so true. Pain will take us directly to God if we allow it, and yet we so often try to avoid the pain. For me, pain has been the way I’ve learned about His grace at a much deeper level. Do I enjoy pain…no, but I know that it has been a tool that has helped me put others before myself. It isn’t a badge we wear, but rather a reminder to look for someone He has in our path who needs me to sit with them in their pain. Loved your post today, Lisa!

  2. blankLinda@Creekside

    Pain. I’ve been there. Done that. Never have I encountered God at a greater depth than during those times when He was all I had. Never have the lessons been stronger and more life-changing. And oh, the relief, the gratitude when He brought me out of those valleys. And redeemed those nightmares that seemed to never end.

    Thank you, Lisa. Your words continue to cause me to dig deep. And that, I need. I am thankful that we have linked up together somehow, my friend.

  3. blankPamela

    Physical pain is my constant companion and has been for as long as I can remember. (NOT complaining–I focus on joy.) Because of it I have a high tolerance for pain or so my doctor tells me. And a empathy for others. I love the “With. Always.” How encouraging!

  4. blankMia

    Dear Lisa
    This is so true. I am experiencing the worst Fm/CFS flare in seven years and Pappa’s presence is so very, very real to me. His power is truly made perfect in our weakness, pain and suffering. I have learned to always give my spirit in Jesus’ hands and to ask Him to glorify His name through all my pain and suffering. The saying goes that you need to squeeze an orange to see what juice is produces. Let us allow the sweet fragrance of our Lord be the juice our suffering produces.
    Blessings XX
    Mia

  5. blankKatie

    “Pain is our friend” Larry Crabb

    I will never forget the first time I heard that and said NO WAY. It is a hard concept to wrap my mind around, yet it is true. I have been closer to God and others when I allow them into my pain inside me and shared from the depths of pain within me. Lisa, you have been one of those friends, who when I have blogged or shared on FB about things that have sat with me in my pain. Thank you!

  6. blankCaleb Suko

    That’s a tough one! I think there are different kinds of pain and some are easier to endure than others. I even enjoy the muscle pain I get when working out. On the other hand there are pains of the heart that are terrible and extremely difficult to endure. My wife and I sat with our 1yr old when we had cancer, I also sat with my sister when she lost her husband in Iraq. Those were some of the most difficult pains I’ve ever sat through with another person.

  7. blankfloyd

    Powerful post, Lisa. We avoid pain like the plague, and yet in hindsight it is the sweetest of times of growing in wisdom and maturity. We’re an odd creation… it is the painful and loving path of redemption… I hear you and am in the same boat.

  8. blankbluecottonmemory

    When we are trying to love and connect God’s way – we do that – sit with others through their pain:) This weekend I had someone’s pain spill all over me – not of my own desire – being shouted at is something nobody wants – and it made me cry and I wondered why – and God finally revealed that I felt her pain – and that someone must be in great pain and brokenness to behave that way. Thank you for sharing your heart – I needed to hear it today!

  9. blankJen Stults

    I’m stopping by from the “Hear it on Sunday” link-up. I was attracted to the title of your post because I’ve been going through a season of pain. What you wrote confirms a message the Lord has been delivering to me over and over again. There is purpose in the pain, and if I run from it, then I miss out on that purpose. Thanks for reminding me yet again! 🙂

  10. blankBarbara H.

    Such a powerful post, Lisa. Yes, I am a wimp. 🙂 So often God has taught me things through the hardest times, yet in my prayers for myself and for others, especially my kids, I ask for some other way. Yet I have also told Him at times I want Him to do His will despite my wimpiness about it. I know He will be with me and help me through anything He asks of me.

  11. blankLaura Boggess

    I was just thinking of what a difference it can make when we are able to see the things that aren’t warped up so pretty as gifts, Lisa. It’s a challenge to view pain this way, says much about your faith! Praying for this kind of trust. A very good discipline, indeed.

  12. blankJen Ferguson

    I pretty much hate pain, yes. I think I might hate other people’s pain more than my own. I’m not sure. I might just be saying this because I’m not carrying a lot at the moment and it grieves me to see others hurting so badly.

  13. blankDolly@Soulstops

    Lisa,
    Thank you for sharing your pain with us and for showing us what we most need to do…sit with God with it…let a loved one sit with us…don’t run away…grow from it…In retrospect, pain is what God used to draw me closer to Him…He comforts…so grateful…thanks for praying for my trip next week…appreciative 🙂

  14. blankbeverley

    I’ve had a lot of pain in my life, mental and emotional pain that has left me in physical pain, but i see God in it all and i am forever asking ‘what is it that you want me to know?’ or ‘what do you want me to learn?’ Because it’s all about learning, but what we think may not be the same agenda has God’s.

  15. blankCeil

    Hi Lisa! Yeah, I don’t think pain is my friend either. But it is a part of life, so your point about looking it in the eyes is a good one. If I stuck my head in the sand every time a painful experience came along, I wouldn’t get much done… Pain was a big part of Jesus’ life, so being in that hard place is really mirroring his life in mine. Not the fun part, but a big part.

    I can’t deny his life in mine, so I need a better attitude when things get hard. You were at my blog today, so we know what Corrie ten Boom thinks. Life is challenging, but if God is there, we’ll flow in the work. I’ll look that in the eye anytime.

    Thank you for this thoughtful, honest post today.
    Ceil

  16. blankEmmie

    This is something I had to do this summer to get to a place of peace over a very troubling situation. I just kept going back to the issue and sitting with it until I could finally go through it. SO hard to do. Thank you so much for sharing this. I am doing a month long series on resilience and have been really inspired by reading how others let God lead them through pain and difficulty. Blessings.

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  19. blankemily wierenga

    oh Lisa, this really got to me… what a beautiful act your husband did… just sitting there, letting your pain speak to him. listening. yes. it’s not easy to do this for someone. it’s not easy to let ourselves sit in our own pain. but it can be so healing, too, in a strange way. i’m learning this too, friend. love you, e.

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