The Spiritual Act of Honoring Pain

by Andrea Kolber


"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other." -Mother Theresa

I awoke this morning and the air felt heavy, maybe because sometimes grief can be sensed before it is spoken. I looked at my phone and saw an alert telling me the deadliest shooting in modern history occurred last night.

Is it stranger that this happened, or is it worse that these horrific events don’t seem so unique anymore?

My husband was starting the morning routine with our daughter, and so I stole those five minutes to read my Bible, and I felt, I’m sure like many of you—angry, sad, and confused. Why God? Why?

pic: James Walsh via Unsplash

pic: James Walsh via Unsplash

All morning I’ve been trying to take it slow and articulate in some logical way, what is on my heart. Mostly, this is what comes out: how do we engage, or for some of us--re-engage--the practice of valuing the personhood of others? How do we recognize they too are the image of God (imago dei)? How do we slow down the escalation of hate and fear that seem pervasive and replace it with curiosity and respect?

How do we keep our hearts soft, grieve our sorrows, but maintain a fierce resolve to fight for goodness—for God’s kingdom come here on earth?

Sometimes I think when the pain feels too much; we become hardened to the plight of those around us. We create our own narrative of why they are less valuable or less worthy of human dignity. In my clinical opinion, this is the reason we usually stop valuing the stories of others, it simply feels too much, and we don’t have the resources to process the pain.

But what if God is asking us to care for our hearts, as they are the wellspring of life (Prov. 4:23), but also, to never ever, ever, stop believing others matter too.

What if part of the way we begin to change our culture is exactly as what Jesus said, “love your neighbor, as yourself ” (Mark 12:31b, emphasis mine).

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As a counselor, I too often have seen folks become numb and overwhelmed amidst pain and trauma. Always, always this shows up in other ways in their lives. We simply don’t get a pass on reality. If we don’t process the legitimate emotions we experience it will come calling somehow, someway. It shows up as addiction, or panic attacks, or relational issues, or unexpected anger, or complicated grief, or even physical ailments.

We simply can’t pretend something isn’t happening.

Our body tells the truth of the experience. As Bessel Van Der Kolk’s wise book, “The Body Keeps the Score,” attests to, we are whole people and what is not dealt with will always come calling.

And so my hope and challenge for you today is this, what practices do you need in your life to give way to legitimate expressions of grief and emotion? Who do you need to call? Do you need to make an appointment with a counselor or a pastor? 

Where are you stifling these experiences and how has that affected your ability to connect or make space for the Imago Dei in others?

This is what I know to be true: God has made us for connection. And if we choose to numb, to leave, to disconnect, to shame others, so we don’t have to deal with the sorrow—we will always see the consequences in other ways.

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May we care for our hearts and souls, and those around us well today. May we be empowered by the God who loves us to choose the harder, more courageous way of love.

Grace and peace, dear readers.