• by Mark Darling

The Paradox of Transformational Pain


I feel so depressed today. So overwhelmed. I'm fighting back the tears and my chest is tight. The reason? It hardly matters, does it? We've all got our stuff. I feel barely able to take my next breath, let alone my next step. Everything seems impossible. But I also know that the pain will pass. I will keep breathing and my memories of the things that today seem so awful will actually become familiar friends. Not because the circumstances were good. Quite the opposite. It will happen – as it has so many time in the past – because the journey into my own woundedness will produce fruit that, in this moment, I can't even imagine possible. Embracing brokenness My life has been transformed by pain. Through it I have found myself on an amazing journey into spiritual landscapes that are much broader and more inclusive than the narrow little spaces I had previously inhabited. Now I can't help but see the great heart of love in every situation. Everything is beautiful. Everything belongs. Even my darkest days, my most broken moments, are being woven together into the beautiful tapestry of the divine romance. What I am learning in the process is that true healing comes through embracing and integrating every aspect of our lives into a coherent whole; even the bits we don't like. Otherwise we end up splitting off into false dichotomies of “good” and “bad” emotions, thoughts, body parts, personalities. And that isn't healthy. Multiple personalities are healed not by being ignored or excluded, but by being acknowledged and included. Once they know they belong there is no need for separation. It's the same with our pain. Healing comes with acceptance and inclusion. The perils of pain avoidance In the charismatic stream of Christianity that I am familiar with, however, pain is seen as a bad thing. The sick need to be healed and the dead raised. All suffering needs to be eliminated. I love the idea of everybody being whole and well, but can we just admit that healing doesn't always happen the way we want it to – sometimes not at all – and that we haven't handled this very well? The innocent have often been shamed, resulting in further damage to already fragile states of mental and emotional health. In his book, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, Richard Rohr refers to the charismatic movement as a religion of pain avoidance. And yet our greatest opportunities for growth can only be realised through embracing our suffering, just as Jesus did at the cross. Aside from the obvious ramifications, Jesus' death and resurrection also serves as a metaphor for the constant cycle of death and rebirth that we see throughout the natural world and, indeed, in our own lives. This, in fact, may be THE universal message. You see it everywhere once you're awake to it. There's a season for everything. But here's the thing. In the face of this divine cycle of death and renewal, trying to micromanage the world becomes futile. We really do need to let go of our own efforts to control and manipulate our lives. Once we do that we can effortlessly fall into the bigger story that's waiting for us. Divine wounding The Jewish patriarch, Jacob, was said to be a man who wrestled with God. He was an ancient prodigal who spent twenty years in a foreign country earning the right to marry, have children and provide for his family. On his return journey to his homeland – the place of his true inheritance that was always his and couldn't be earned – he demanded a blessing as he wrestled with his creator one sleepless night. Jacob was wounded in the process. God touched his hip socket and dislocated it and I imagine that he may have been left with a limp. But he was a changed man. That's the thing about wrestling with God and with your pain. You will be wounded, but you will also be wonderfully changed. You may even be left with a limp, but your wound will be your greatest blessing. Coming home I can tell you first hand that the journey from the foreign soil of performance based religion into the homeland of true spiritual belonging can pass through many dark nights of wrestling with our own notions of who we perceive God to be. Letting go is painful when you've been so invested in a false image. However, “true but challenging” is so much better than “familiar but redundant”. So let's not deny our pain, for to do so is essentially to deny ourselves. Rather, let's enter into it. Test it out. Walk around in it. Get a feel for it. Then just sit with it for a while. For it is within our own woundedness that our truest selves are to be found and from which our best stories will be written.

Mark has a background in psychology and applied neuroscience. He is currently exploring the high country of grace and finding many delightful places of rest for the soul. Mark enjoys surfing, bush walking, making music, good food and laughter in the company of friends. He resides on Queensland's Sunshine Coast and has two grown children.

See all previous articles by Mark Darling

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