The more I observe different cultures and people groups, the more convinced I am that we are more alike than different; no matter what language we speak, beliefs we hold, or customs we follow. We all have pain, we all desire to be loved, and to love others. We all long to be connected, known, and to have a place where we belong.
When we lose our connection, place of belonging, or our purpose, we experience pain. Anytime we lose something that has significant meaning to us, loss and grief ensue. The greater the meaning, the greater the grief.
Recently, my family has been reading through The Chronicles of Narnia. In C.S. Lewis’ “Voyage of the Dawn Treader”, there is a beautiful picture of “healing pain.” Eustace has been turned into a dragon. Aslan comes and cuts through the hard skin of the dragon and “undresses” him. It takes a long time and it is painful, but Eustace says “It hurts so good.”
“Then the lion said—but I don’t know if it spoke—’You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, but I can tell you, I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it…That very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’d ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.”
Hurting So Good.
One may wonder the absurdity of a statement of hurting so good. How can pain be good? Emotional, mental, and spiritual pain is the same as physical pain in that it is the alarm that something is wrong. When I talk about grief and loss, I often draw parallels of the severing of a physical limb or a physical gash in the body. Pain is the alarm bell sounding, screaming that there is a problem that needs to be fixed.
The signal alerts the person that one needs to stop and attend to the wound. The disorder congenital insensitivity to pain is when individuals do not feel pain. This physical disorder is dangerous as a person is not aware something has happened, therefore often does not notice the issue, and does not attend to the wound. Someone who has this disorder often has a shortened life expectancy. Emotional, mental, and spiritual pain that is left unattended can have the same result. Perhaps not as immediate as bleeding out physically, but just as significant.
Attending to Pain
Realizing pain is the alarm center leads to healing and is often a difficult process. It involves creating space for pain and feeling the pain. It involves management of it. In order to deal with extreme pain, which is usually the case with grief and loss, dosing pain is critical.
How Does One Dose Pain?
Pain in excess is too much and not healthy for a person. In dosing pain, one allows pain to come in and to also take a break from the pain. Here are two suggestions for how you can dose your pain:
1. Making Space
It is key to make space to experience the pain, by allowing oneself to feel the pain. This can happen in many ways. If your life is very full, planning quiet and space to reflect and feel is critical. Sometimes prompting questions can be helpful. Pain does not come on demand as we know, so creating as many margins in life, especially during a heavy pain period is very helpful. Grief may come on in full swing as you are shopping at the market, in transit somewhere or in the middle of a project. One of the difficult things about grief and pain is it does not work on a desired schedule.
2. Coming Up for Air
As you are confronting pain, it is imperative to enjoy the good as well. To take breaks from the hard and heavy. To rest, to allow yourself to dream, to laugh, to live in the light for a bit. Do things you like, things that give you joy, rest, and peace. There are may coping skills that assist in this, see the Grief Workout for some ideas.
People often tell me that they struggle with guilt when they enjoy things in the intense grief period. Know that coming up for air is imperative to your healing process. Much like a gash wound must have air and needs to be rested; our emotions, minds, and spirits need to rest too. Jesus certainly modeled this for us in mandating the Sabbath. In the Jewish culture Shabbat, the celebration before Sabbath, toasts are made saying “Shabbat Shalom” which means, “May you be healed through rest.” We need rest and respite to heal.
When is it best to move on with my life and move past the pain or push it down?
In grief and loss, the pain is not wrapped in a beautiful and pain-free bow, unfortunately. We don’t get a medal, certificate, or transcript noting all that we have endured, stamped “You are complete.” Yet scars can form, functioning continues, and new meanings are developed. In an earlier article, complicated grief is discussed. If you find yourself or someone you love in a place where grief is stuck, it is important to get help in your grief process.
“Grief is the story of love after loss. It is not a state or a moment or a single emotion. It unfolds and evolves over time.” -Katherine Sheer (Center for Complicated Grief). My hope and prayer for you is that like Eustace, you can let grief do its “good hurting” work in your life.