On Wasted Pain
I haven’t really felt pain, true pain, until this current season of my life.
I thought I had felt pain before, and to a certain extent I had, I suppose. I had experienced frustration, fear of the unknown, anger towards others, and just general life stuff that presented itself to me as painful at the time. But true pain, really awful suffering, was something new to me.
Experiencing the loss of someone so dear to me, someone so inexplicably precious and close, did something mysterious and profound to my soul. That pain felt physical, and I think that type of pain overwhelms. It was so mysterious, and yet so vividly real, that it took on a transformative nature that left me and leaves me changed.
I haven’t given birth to my son yet, but from everything I’ve heard, I believe that that type of physical pain will also be like anything I have ever experienced. I’ve always been such a whimp when it comes to any form of physical suffering; I hate feeling discomfort of any kind. Spraining my ankle or getting a cortisone shot probably takes the cake for the worst type of physical trauma I’ve endured. Birthing a human person into the world seems worlds above and beyond any type of petty ailment I’ve endured up to this point.
Since experiencing these types of deep and crazy pain is a new experience for me, it’s given me time to reflect on what exactly I’m called to do with it. It can’t really be ignored, because pain doesn’t go away and it’s too intense to be stifled or forgotten. It can’t be swept under the rug, because I constantly feel it and see it and grapple with it. It’s like a raging fire that I can’t escape or sugarcoat, because flames are powerful and all encompassing.
I always knew that there was devastating pain and suffering in the world, and it made me sad, more or less, but it wasn’t until pain came encountered me in the flesh that I became aware of what it really was, how much it hurt, and what I needed to do with it.
Fulton Sheen once wrote, “There is nothing more tragic in all of the world than wasted pain.”
I have to make a decision about what to do with my pain when I experience it. I wrestle with it, I question it, and I struggle against it, but it doesn’t go away. Sure, pain subsides and comes in waves and seasons, but when it is present and alive in my mind, I have to consciously decide how I live with it.
And I don’t want my pain to be wasted.
I don’t believe that I experience pain simply to glean the experience of feeling it or enduring it. It sounds cliche to say that pain teaches me that beauty and goodness can be brought out of any situation, and I believe it can and does, but it doesn’t help me to rationalize it like I did before. Knowing that goodness seeps out of the cracks of suffering and death doesn’t help much because the intensity of pain forces me to reconsider everything I ever “knew” about “knowing” things anyway. It makes me question who I am, where I am going, and the purpose of everything in general and all at once.
“Thrill the wine of my wasted life into Your divine spirit; unite my broken heart with Your heart; change my cross into a crucifix.”
Pain without God, or without the human love that encompasses even death, seems like a barren piece of wood to me, without any mystery or transformative power. It seems barren and empty and awful, like pain existing simply to be experienced but not loved.
When I contemplate how God has suffered, and how the suffering fragments of my “crosses”, as overwhelming as they are, can be intertwined into a mystery of redemptive love and sacrifice, I sense that I am participating in something wholly greater than myself and something that redeems the excruciating pains I know too well. When I mentally distance myself from embracing pain and its overwhelming uncertainty, I run from the mystery of the crucifix; not just a cross, because a cross can sometimes be an empty symbol, but a crucifix means a person nailed to it and a person Who is God in bitterness and agony that mirrors my own.
“Transubstantiate the fragments of my life.” Allow my pain to be ever more real and ever more my personal participation in death and redemption and new life. Transform the very essence of my pain and my journey into something that redeems, for redeeming means saved and rescued.
Allow it to make me become more alive than I was before. Allow me the honor of not running from the pain You bestow, but to embrace it and trust that it is through pain and the sacrifice of it thereof that it becomes not wasted, but redeemed.