I'm at dinner with a group of people I know and cherish, and one of them has experienced pain her entire life. Some of it has been related to mental health, some of it related to an ovarian cyst, but most of it has been caused by her ears.
The poor lady has always had ear problems, and no doctor has been able to fix them for her.
Another member of the dinner party was a man who has also experienced many crosses in his life. He experienced a really bad concussion as a kid, he has had to take care of his ailing parents for years now since he lives the closest to them (compared to the other kids in the family), and his job causes him a lot of back pain. A lot of physical labor is involved in it.
These two people got into another small argument about how their cross is heavier than the others. I've seen it happen before. It's sad because I know they both care about each other a LOT, but there is a huge gap in communication whenever they are trying to talk about pain.
Since these people are midwesterners, the conversation looked cordial and polite, but I have a gift of reading in between the lines. My gift was in action during that dinner conversation. The two things these people were really sharing with each other were:
My pain is great, and I don't think you cannot possibly understand that.
Don't tell me to stop talking about the pain, because talking about my ailments is the only way I feel better about it - it's the only way I feel seen in this horrible struggle I have to deal with every day.
I have minor critiques of both the sentiments expressed above. I was brave enough that dinner to share with them what I saw happening -
They were diminishing the validity of each others crosses because they thought their pain was much more than the others.
Through the help of Jesus Christ, I helped them realize the following: Although they have different struggles and therefore different pains, they both hurt. They both experience this constant negative thing in their lives every day - just in their own ways.
But most of all, I said this plainly:
Diminishing someone else's pain because it is not like yours is not charitable towards your neighbor.
It is not kind to say such things - or believe them.
Holy Spirit was on my side because both parties understood what I wanted to draw their attention to - I saw their pain. They saw each other's pain. But they needed to remember pain is pain - and both of them could connect in that way instead of letting smaller differences come between them, creating unnecessary friction and tension.
Have you done that to someone before?
Have you ever said something like the above two statements to someone else?
That they couldn't possibly understand your pain?
That you're upset other people want you to stop talking about the pain, because it's the only way you feel better about the pain?
I think everyone can understand pain. The person you're explaining your pain to might not understand your specific ailment or injury, but everyone has been hurt before.
I think we should be cautious with how we talk about our pains, physical, emotional, or spiritual.
Every word that comes from our mouths affects the atmosphere around us.
Are we creating an atmosphere that glorifies God and all the things He gives and takes away from us for our good? Are our words helping create faith or destroy it? How can we talk about our pain in a way that doesn't idolize it - but as a cross to offer to God while we try to fix it?
I've been reflecting a bit about Jesus Christ during his journey to the cross and St. Paul's thorn in his side. Jesus Christ did complain and vent about the hypocrites that Pharisees and Sadducees during his ministry. He even called out his followers, disciples, and apostles for their lack of faith.
But on the way to the cross, I have not yet read any word of complaint from our Lord.
Instead, I see Jesus' compassion. I see him comforting the mourning women while he carried the cross with Simeon. I see him making sure someone will take care of his Mother, Mary most holy, since she would be without an immediate family after Jesus' death and resurrection (Joseph, her most chaste spouse, had already passed away). I see Jesus crying out to Father, asking Father to forgive the sinners that put him on the cross, because we didn't know our sins would cost God so much pain.
Maybe showing compassion to others while we are in pain helps alleviate our own suffering. It helps remind us we can still do good things while in pain. We should never let pain stop us from advancing the good of God's will on earth.
St. Paul also complained and corrected people during his ministry in the name of Jesus Christ. He made sure churches knew his opinion about their practices and incorrect teachings. He made sure that St. Peter was corrected publicly for being a public hypocrite about how Jesus Christ had lifted the Jewish laws of kosher after his resurrection. St. Paul wasn't above venting and complaining, but he always had an instructive purpose behind it.
St. Paul also let us, his readers, understand his own personal pain one time in his letters. He shared he had some sort of an ongoing pain in his life - a thorn in his side that he asked the Lord to remove from him three times. (Does that remind anyone else of when Jesus asked Father to choose a different cross for Jesus, if it were possible, during Jesus' agony?)
The Lord granted St. Paul an answer - that this weakness, this pain, was for God's glory --- that God's glory and strength would shine through St. Paul's problem.
Here's the important part: St. Paul decided to trust God about it, and I never saw him complain or mention it again in any of his other letters.
I think the ability to not complain or vent consistently about a consistent pain is a gift and grace directly from God.
I'm not able to do that quite yet, but I hope Holy Spirit can help me follow the example of my Lord and St. Paul.
Of course I can take my woes to God - but I think making that a private conversation (like the Psalms were) or consulting a few trusted friends for guidance (like in Job's story - even though his friends weren't giving him good advice) is the best way to go ... not making my pain a constant addition to every meal I eat with friends or family.
I pray my heart remains open to acknowledging other people's pain but does not help them idolize their pain or find comfort in it instead of God's plan for their pain. Anything can be an obstacle to true, humble, and meek faith in God. Even an earache.
Let us accept the thorns in our sides God has given us, and let us seek help for any pain that is NOT from Him.