We are living through a season of upheaval: from the impact of COVID-19 to the continued trauma of racial violence. It is normal for us to feel trapped in the personal and communal disruption that occurs in the midst of uncertainty. Will I be safe? Will my loved ones be safe? Is anything safe? When the answer is "I don't know" it's no wonder that we are experiencing heightened stress, anxiety, anger, sadness, attempts to control, or the desire to give up.
We often can get blinded by the pain of trauma and grief. Our world tells us that pain is the problem, and when we can’t fix it or make it go away, something must be wrong with us. But this pain isn’t going away. There it is again, another roadblock, another transition, another loss, another shooting, another crime, another trauma. Each new event, situation, or loss seems to dredge up all the pain we so carefully worked to put away.
When we keep injuring the same spot, our body has a natural response- it creates a callus. The problem is still there; we just harden over it. We feel numb, so we toughen up and soldier on. Yet in this unprecedented season, many of us have found that our calluses are being ripped off. We are directly confronted with the systemic injustices, the depth of loss, and fear without our normal distractions to help us cover them. There is no longer a place to hide from the pain of the moment and the way it resonates with our history of pain.
Trauma is often described as a natural response to an unnatural event. We forget that the deep ache we feel, the grief, loss, and fear comes from our sense of safety being disrupted. When we seek to shut down our feelings of pain, we also shut down the love, care, and empathy that is attached to it. It is so easy to forget that it only hurts this bad because we care, and we need that love and care to address the weight of pain we are feeling.
Pain is an alarm; it is there to protect the things that are precious and valuable. When the fire alarm goes off, we don’t just turn it off and go back to bed. We jump up, grab our loved ones and prized possessions, and run out of the house. We are not called as Christians to forget the pain but to allow love to flow through that pain- which creates that divine empathy. Our pain is an extension of our love.
I've always found it so poignant that Jesus' resurrected body still carries the marks of the violence done to him. Why? Why do these scars remain? His scars are the symbol of the depth of his love. What if your tears, your lamenting, your fight against injustice were not symbols of weakness but of deep righteous love? Jesus tells his disciples to expect pain and suffering, and he also tells us to expect him and the Holy Spirit, his comforter, to never leave our side.
Knowing this truth provides the safety we need to acknowledge our pain. When the pain feels overwhelming, and you feel so weak, you can hold onto the fact that His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). The trauma, grief, and loss we’ve experienced often feel like a pile of manure to stink up our life. Yet in God’s mysterious ways, He steps into that pain with us, to work with it. He plants His promises there, so when the garden has grown, we don’t focus on the soil but we celebrate the beauty that was birthed from it.
There is safety in recognizing our pain, and there is safety in responding to it. We are put into community to comfort one another, to bear each other's burdens. If you feel you are carrying your burden alone, know that you are not. You are surrounded by a community of deeply loving, openhearted people that the world desperately needs. Find the friends, spiritual leaders, church community, or therapists that will allow you to express your pain and reach for care so that the depth of your love doesn’t stay callused over.
Pain does not erase joy, and joy does not erase the pain. Instead, just like the scars that remained on Jesus' hands and feet, the joy and hope of his fulfilled promises can hold that pain. Those holes and wounds are what creates the space for us to be embraced and seen. If the pain begins to spill over, we work to build up our container by relying on the presence of God; caring for our physical, spiritual, and emotional health; embracing and connecting with our people, and continuing to fight for the health and safety of our communities.
Protecting our pain is so important. Not so that we drown in it but that we continue to respond to it. When we are met in those painful places, that is when we truly experience the depth of love and hope. There is no place so dark that the Spirit of the Lord can't find us. No pain so deep that healing is not available. Though the wounds may remain, so does the hope of redemption and new life. When the love of God meets us in the darkest places, we truly know how bright the light is.
By: Dr. Sunitha Chandy