Posts Tagged ‘agony

11
May
21

Seeking Soulpain Relief

“The reason women have the babies instead of men…” my wife explained, immediately following the birth of our second child, “… is because men couldn’t handle the pain.”

Me… earlier today.

After a short time of harrumphing, sputtering, and expressing considerable masculine indignation, I was forced to pause and process…

… and then admit she was totally right. 

I will confess right up front; I am a complete wimp when it comes to pain. Always have been and likely always will be.

This despite the fact that I grew up in the, “Rub some dirt on it and get back in there” era. 

For me, every experience of pain is like it is happening for the first time EVER. It shocks me. It surprises me. It insults me. It takes my breath away. It deftly penetrates beneath my hard, protective shell and short-circuits my wiring, leaving me whimpering and grimacing like a dewy fawn.

And yes, I know pain is necessary. “Pain is a teacher,” they say. Pain – whether physical, emotional, or spiritual – serves to alert us to situations that demand immediate, therapeutic attention.

Pain also reminds us – in case we forget – about the inescapability of our mortality.

Yes, yes. Sure. I’ve heard all of that and know it is all 100% true.

But still… why does pain have to be so damned… PAINFUL?! So INTRUSIVE?! So RUDE and OBNOXIOUS?!

None of us is immune from pain! It attacks young and old, rich and poor, man and woman, smart and dumb all alike. And because pain is so universal, we have developed an impressive arsenal of tools for dealing with its periodic visits. 

Sometimes we employ the denial tool I mentioned earlier. If that one fails (which it almost always does), we might reach for one of a variety of numbing agents… tools designed to blunt the signals sent to our brain from the site of the primary assault. 

Numbing works for a while but must always be repeated… often with stronger and stronger doses of the number. [NOTE: the “b” there in the word “number” is silent.] Sadly, before people find lasting relief from their pain, they often find life-destroying addiction to those numbing agents.

Finally, when the pain is severe or chronic or long-lasting enough, we decide that the only thing left to do is go to the Source and ask, “Where and why did this pain start in the first place?”

For about the past week I have been dealing with excruciating lower back pain… the kind that makes me walk around the house like a cartoon of a little old man. Today, finally, I decided (with much loving encouragement from Joan) that it was time to try and get to the root of the issue… to stop denying, numbing, and avoiding.

Sadly, before I did, the pain had to get really, really bad.

Isn’t that what happens sometimes in our souls, too? 

Don’t we each have those moments in life that bring us genuine soulpain? And don’t we start out coping with that pain by denying it even exists? And then, when we discover that denial really IS just a river in Egypt instead of an effective coping strategy, don’t we regularly move on to trying to NUMB the pain? 

So, my question is; how bad does the pain have to get? How much agony do we have to endure? How deep does our addiction to numbing agents have to go before we decide it is time to seek out the SOURCE?

For a lot of folks, the source of that soulpain is the lack of a good, solid answer to the question of PURPOSE; Who am I? Why am I here? What is my life supposed to be about? What is LIFE about?

The Teacher, writing in the book of Ecclesiastes, is not exactly the bluebird of happiness on this topic. For those who are tempted to find meaning in their work he (or she) writes, “What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun?  For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 2:22-23, NRSV).

Jesus, on the other hand, offers an alternative. In the 14th chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus tells us that he is, “… the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” (John 14:6, NRSV). And on 15 separate later occasions in the New Testament, he then commands his followers to “LOVE ONE ANOTHER.”

It seems to me that if you were looking for a good, reliable “soulpain reliever,” those words might be about as close to the Source as you could get. 

Abundant blessings;

01
Apr
20

Something from Nothing, Part 1

One man counseling anotherOver the course of my 20 years in professional ministry, I like to think I have offered some measure of comfort to people who have come to me seeking counsel in the midst of deep, personal crises.

But I know for an undeniable fact that my performance as a counselor has sometimes stunk up the joint, too.

I am thinking specifically of the time Troy came to see me.

As his story poured out, I tried to remember if I had met Troy (not his real name) before. But since I was one of a multitude of associate pastors at a megachurch in the Midwest, I really couldn’t place him beyond a passing familiarity.

On the surface – where most of us prefer to dwell most of the time – Troy fit in quite well with the general congregational profile: he was white… upper-middle class… well educated… successful… family oriented.

He was not the kind of guy you would expect to be sitting across from, watching as a cascading wave of life crises threatened to pound him into little pieces and wash him away.

For starters, Troy had been laid off from his job. It was a good, high-paying job with an engineering company where he had worked for 15 years. A change in ownership led to a change in senior staff and a thorough re-shuffling of personnel. Troy was one of the unfortunate casualties.

Shortly after receiving his walking papers, Troy’s wife decided to leave him. In reality, she decided to finally stop trying to hide the affair she had been having with another man for a couple of years now and move in with him.

She was, Troy told me through his tears, the love of his life.

Then, just this past week his youngest daughter came home from school in absolute agony, vowing never to return to that horrible place ever again. It seems she had been singled out by a group of mean girls at her junior high for an epic ration of bullying and ostracism.

And to top it all off (“What?? You’re kidding me! There’s MORE? Troy… my brother… I am not sure I can even keep track of, let alone respond pastorally and effectively, to everything that’s going down in your life right now. I’m about to hit overload on the CARE-O-METER!”), Troy had just received word back from his dermatologist that the mole on his back that they biopsied last week was – in fact – melanoma. Steps needed to be taken right away to begin treating it to prevent its spread.

Troy was still covered by his company’s health insurance under the COBRA law (thank God!), but this new twist was going to throw a serious wrench into his job-hunting campaign for a while.

As he concluded his litany of lament, Troy just lowered his head, shook it slowly back and forth and said, “Pastor, I just don’t know what to do or where to turn. I can’t sleep at night and I just feel like I am at the end of my rope. That’s why I came to see you.”

Most of the time, when counseling with a congregant, I begin the session with prayer. In the prayer I ask God to guide both of us by the Holy Spirit and to help us see possibilities that might not be apparent to either of us. Troy had walked through the door 20 minutes ago and immediately began spilling his guts… unaware of my pastoral prayer protocol.

We may not have begun the session with prayer, but man alive, I was sure praying now!

I was shell-shocked. I was numb. And quite honestly, I had no earthly idea how to respond to Troy. At that point I had not been at this pastoring thing too terribly long and had never heard this kind of outpouring of woe from any single person. This was like a week’s worth of crises all wrapped in one nasty ball. Fortunately, I fought back the urge to stop him and say, “Hold on, Troy… one issue per customer per visit, please.”

But life had not afforded Troy that kind of orderliness. It was all hitting him at once.

And so, as he looked up from his folded and shaking hands, it was clear Troy expected something from me. He was a smart enough guy not to expect that I would pull out a magic wand, wave it and say, “Shazzam! All better now!”

But still… something was needed. A thread. A glimmer of light. A narrow ledge his aching fingers might cling to.

As my calm-appearing gaze met his, the wheels of my brain were whirling feverishly. The cylinders tumbled, the locks clicked, the chute opened… but nothing came out.

“Help me, Jesus,” I desperately prayed, “Because honestly… I got nuttin’!”

 

… TO BE CONTINUED TOMORROW!




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