Your pain is a celebration

After my last post, I told a few people I was planning a followup that would look past the specific experience of Mother’s Day and look more generally at the experience of suffering and the question of “sensitivity” towards suffering.

What interests me, and has for some time now, is the problem of the pain that comes when a good that one lacks is celebrated.

Obviously, my Mother’s Day post addressed this to some extent. But the example that was most present to me while writing that post has little to do with motherhood. The example that I bear with me, accustomed now but still impossible to ignore, is the privation of the good of a happy marriage.

If you’ve read this blog at all in the last three years, you know I am separated from my husband. Without going into details, I can tell you that this situation–this privation–is deeply painful. It’s a pain that sits at a dull, almost forgettable background ache much of the time, until I move or something moves me and the sharp point of loss and regret stabs afresh, as sharp as when the wound was inflicted.

And while it hurts to see others denigrate, mock, or devalue marriage–though I ache with fellow-feeling whenever a friend, college classmate, online acquaintance, neighbor or other reveals to me their open or hidden marital wounds (and there are so very many more than you realize until you are “someone who can understand” because you’ve been there and are safe to open up to)–what has most often driven me to torrents of grief has been the happiness of others and the celebration of and promotion of marriage.

The spouse-brag FB posts, the anniversary blessings in church, the sappiness of new love and the comfortable resonance of old love all hurt to witness like a toothache that throbs intermittently and demands attention.

I tried to avoid it, for a while. I tried blocking FB posts, avoiding certain blogs, keeping to myself. But that’s a futile task, isn’t it? And love and marriage are everywhere–in the year after I moved back north with my children, there were two family weddings and my parent’s 40th wedding anniversary. I cried at or after all three. And I felt guilty for my tears because I wanted to rejoice with my loved ones. I did rejoice! But my joy was commingled with grief.

I am going somewhere with this, if you’ll bear with me.

What is the cause of this pain? It’s not a re-wounding, the way it is when trauma victims are emotionally transported back to a traumatic event by being exposed to graphic depictions of the same evil. I’m not reliving the events surrounding my separation or the sins and mistakes that damaged my marriage. I am not being reminded of an evil act at all.

What I suffer–what causes me to gasp with the movement of that deeply embedded loss–is the privation of a good that ought to be. And so it is the presence of a Great Good, as I called it in my last post, that causes me to grieve anew the lack of that good in my own life. Were it not a Great Good, I could not suffer so much for the lack of it.

I grieve my marriage because I value marriage, and it is right both to value it and to grieve it.

This post, then, is for others who have experienced this pain over the Great Goods enjoyed by others. I don’t have a solution for your pain, because your pain isn’t an evil. My pain isn’t an evil. While the lack of the thing you grieve is almost certainly a result of the fallen, disordered nature of this world, and while the desire to avoid feeling that pain might drive you to unhealthy lengths, the grief itself is the response of a rightly-ordered heart.

It would be wrong to ask that others not rejoice in the Goods we so keenly grieve for ourselves, since we know they are Great Goods that ought to be celebrated. Sometimes, in seeking to escape feeling the pain of a privation we inadvertently fall into new evils like envy or resentment. But the best way I have found to preserve in myself the ability to rejoice for the Great Goods that come into the lives of my loved ones is to cease running from the rightly-ordered pain I feel at my own privation.

Don’t, as I did for some time, berate yourself for the grief that comes mixed in with your joy for others. There is no contradiction between sorrow and joy, suffering and celebration. When you smile through your tears, both your tears and your smile can be a tribute.

The Greater the Good, the greater both the joy and the loss. Your pain is  a celebration of the Good from a heart that knows how Great the Good is from knowing the size, shape, and cost of its absence. Let your grief teach your heart how to value the Good that is as well as the Good that is not.

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  • https://www.blogger.com/profile/10030430757861849145 Sarah

    Your thoughts make sense Kate. Thanks for this. I think everyone keenly knows that privation at some point in their lives. I certainly have (and still do) and have run through the gamut of healthy/unhealthy ways to cope. I have to agree with you though…best way that I have found to deal with the feelings and emotions that come with the privation of a good is to feel them. Not wallow in self-misery, but admit that we're lonely, sad, grief-stricken and that it is good and appropriate to feel like this. And in some strange and magical way, this has lessened the loneliness, sadness and grief for me a little bit at a time. I don't imagine those feelings, for me at least, will ever resolve completely, but I'm ok with that. Loss is, surprise surprise, a rather large part of life and I'd rather feel it and live in reality, than try to medicate, wish or drink it away.

  • https://www.blogger.com/profile/04165657966524685697 Ellen Willson

    Oh Kate, my heart hurts for you and Liam and your kids. You so beautifully express what is in our deepest wounds. It's a good reminder to me too keep you in prayer.

    Your words also called to mind the bitter joy we felt at each birth announcement during the long year we waited for a child. I imagine many couples dealing with long term infertility can relate to the feeling of pain at a great good, while also celebrating for those that have it.

    Sending love your way, my friend.

  • https://www.blogger.com/profile/12557248434888642114 Melanie Bettinelli

    "The grief itself is the response of a rightly-ordered heart."

    Thank you, Kate. This is beautiful and true.