In the end, the thing that redeems us is how we hold each other’s pain. On the surface, it looks simple. It doesn’t require physical stamina or an extensive and expensive education. It looks like simply sitting, no busy hustling and bustling. The hustling and bustling is an avoidance mechanism. We scurry around making casseroles and cups of tea when what is required is stillness and serenity. Facing pain authentically means looking at it unflinchingly, unswervingly. Pain and grief demand that we go through. No matter how much we want to medicate it, or self-medicate, we can only go through the pain, not around it.
I thought for a while that it was only pastors who have to acquire this skill. I thought we were the only ones that had to stand at bedsides and grave sites. We balance awkwardly or delicately along the fine line between being present and being pompous. Delving more deeply, I realized that this is what relationships are made of: the uneasy task of trust and holding each other’s pain.
We are all broken and wounded. We live in the reality of Dante’s Divine Comedy – we sit at the table feeding one another with long handled spoons because we are unable to feed ourselves. We desperately need each other. We choose our friendships and partnerships based on the gut reaction of who we think will respect and nurture what is best in us and what is worst.
The why is obvious. Human beings were created for relationship. Even the most introverted introvert or wounded warrior finds a measure of healing and hope with someone other than themselves. The American icon of the cowboy riding alone into the sunset may be romantic but it glorifies a dangerous lie. Being independent and self-sufficient doesn’t mean strict solitude; it means you want control over the relationships you cultivate. The American War of Independence wasn’t fought so the people over here on this side of the Atlantic Ocean could be alone. It was fought so we could control their own destiny. Perhaps to our forefathers government could function as a set of thoughtfully balanced relationships and partnerships. Perhaps that is how democracy is supposed to work. From the halls of power to the pulpit to the dinner table-it seems we have lost our way.
The pain seems too great. None of us wants to face it and make the hard decisions and corrections that must occur for freedom to survive and thrive. Being distracted by bread and circuses simply delays the inevitable. Children may laugh and giggle at the mocking of death and false bravado of Halloween but the reality comes to each of us all too soon. Will we choose to live facing both the pain and the joy? Or will we sweep tragedy and terror under the rug and pretend they don’t exist?
We must return to Holy Love. Holy Love created us for relationship. Not for judicial or punitive reasons did Jesus Christ die on the cross. In some mystery we don’t completely understand, Jesus Christ died holding our pain. He walked out of the empty tomb scarred but alive, resurrected in a kind of life that for now isn’t completely ours.
We can taste it and live it, as we walk and work together. What is prayer but carrying our hopes and fears to the place of Holy Love, the kingdom of heaven, so our burdens are shared and lightened? The image that comes to me is of cupped hands. Two hands carrying water from the stream to pour into the arid places. A lot of the water dribbles away or is sloshed out in the carrying. Some of the water makes it to its destination-a dry, cracked place in the heart of another.
It is all I can do to offer this living water, carrying it to the broken places that are pointed out to me. Someone else will carry water and let it rain in my tired soul. Holy Love-Father, Son and Holy Spirit-is the Source of the water. The Samaritan woman asked Jesus “You would ask me for water? The well is the and you have no bucket.” (John, chapter 4) It was Jesus who poured living water into her life that day. The living water soothes as our pain, bathes our wounds, and revives our souls. Sometimes, we drink straight from the well. At other times we rely on the cupped hands of others when we are too broken, too tired or too crippled to get it ourselves. “Wounded healers”, Henri Nouwen called us, knowing our broken and healed places are the scars through which Holy Love flows into the world.
Holding each other’s pain is a gift, and an art, a blessing and a suffering. We would much rather rejoice that weep. Yet it is an honor and a burden to live with both. And living with both means we are truly alive.