Engaging a World of Hurt
"Pain that is not processed is passed on. Pain that is not transformed is transmitted" Fr. Richard Rohr
Pain is a problem for the church. We know that individuals, families, and entire communities feel the hurts of the world. Those painful things inflicted by people, situations, illnesses, and disappointments. These hurts are part of the human experience and everyone has them in some form or another. Pain, in general, is our mind/body/soul's way of pointing out something potentially dangerous is happening. It is a powerful motivator of behavior, as the drive to relieve pain can be used positively (remove hand from hot stove for example) or negatively (self-medicating with alcohol in order to numb pain).
I would submit that most contemporary churches have no place for expressing pain and allowing it to be transformed by God. Sometimes, in our worship, we are so focused on the jubilant celebration of God, that we do not leave room for the lamenting, the mourner, or the wounded. We speak to those who are deeply hurting with cliche's, scriptures given flippantly (Every thing works for the good...) but rarely encourage them by giving room for expression of hurts and pain.
Pastor Brian McLaren in his excellent book, "Naked Spirituality" (not about being spiritual in the nude, but about authentic spirituality :-)), describes the process in which God helps us reframe and rename our pain. It begins by simply naming the hurt and changing it into petitions before God. These petitions may not change our world but seek to change us in the world through the peace of God. Remember, pain is pointing to something potentially or presently dangerous. The petition aknowledges the danger and asks for the peace, grace, and courage to live in the context of danger.
McLaren speaks of a world of anxiety (Pain around what will happen), hurts (Pain around what did happen), and disappointments (Pain around what did not happen). We all experience these things regularly. When you read through the Psalms, you find the expression of the entire gamut of anxiety, hurts, and disappointments. Part of the worship experience was to share the pain with God, and with others. Scripture reveals that when we experience significant pain, that we are no longer open to the voice of God because we are solely focused on that pain (Exodus 6:9). Unredeemed pain leads to further pain. The old paradigm that "hurt people hurt people" leads to further wounding and pain. The cycle must be interrupted for healing to take place.
We often avoid having people share their pain as we do not know what to do with it. We often feel as if we need to be able to "fix it". We want to extinguish pain, but not enter it. God describes himself as "our healer" in Exodus 15:26. It is the work of God to transform and redeem our pain. This comes with an authentic encounter with the living God. That healing may come as God works through others, but we are not responsible to fix others, but to simply journey and help others carry the burden (Gal 6:2).
Are you carrrying anxieties, hurts, and disappointments? Are they affecting your ability to experience the life that God has for you? Begin by expressing your hurts to God, and if inspired, to others as well. Healing begins when you identify the pain that is imprisoning you and simply share them with God.
I pray that your church community, will be a refuge for the anxious, hurting, and disappointed people in your community. I pray that God-encounters become the norm and healing is a hallmark of our worship experiences.
May God bless you,
Pastor M Traylor