A few days ago, I accidentally nicked my finger on the edge of our table and it started to bleed. The scratch was small but it stung in that sharp, throbbing sort of way.
I was in a hurry, trying to get out the door and head to the office. I rushed to the kitchen and got a paper towel. I pressed it to the cut and let it bleed. I looked at it and it seemed fine, then a pink line turned into a redder one and another paper towel was necessary. It took much longer than I would have hoped to get the thing under control so I could go about my day.
Dealing With Hurt
This very small, insignificant encounter with pain got me thinking about the larger hurts we have to endure.
Just like with my little cut, we are in a hurry to deal with our pain. We want it to go away. We want to get back to our regularly scheduled program, the agenda with which we began.
Some hurt simply won’t let us. We try all sorts of tricks – refusing to talk about it, pretending it doesn’t hurt, drinking ourselves silly. We try distracting ourselves with sports and fashion and the price of real estate. But the hurt is there. Throbbing, pulsing, scratching at us in the most annoying way possible.
The thing about hurt is we cannot ignore it forever. Eventually, it will make itself known. We will hurt others or sink into depression. We will become addicts or hermits. Our instinct to avoid pain is, quite frankly, not a very good one.
It is a bit counter-intuitive that the best way to treat my little cut is by applying pressure. “Push it, that’ll help!” Seems insane, but it is exactly what I needed to do.
In the same way, we deal with pain by dealing with pain. The only way through suffering is straight through. There is no shortcut. No bridge further upstream. We have to pull up our bootstraps and cross the river.
The reason for this is because our pain is important. Suffering is our mind (heart/soul) telling us something important has been lost or damaged. We have to pay attention to that message. We have to mourn what was lost. We have to think about why it mattered to us. We have to feel the pain. It is the process of life. The Mood Curve.
The real truth is there is no healing from pain, at least not in the sense we imagine. Even my tiny cut leaves an almost imperceptible scar. The topography of my finger will never be the same. And I think that is what scares us most. We just want things to go back to normal.
My wife lost her father a few years ago. We lost a baby even more recently. There is no coming back from that. No returning to the day when that wasn’t a reality. Our pain leaves scars.
As sad as that is, it is not all bad news. Our scars are evidence of pain, not indictments of our existence. It is incredible how fragile, yet resilient the human body is. The same goes for the human soul.
I was reading the story of Odysseys, Homer’s great tale that many consider the oldest story we have (and one of the best). When the hero returns home, he is given a disguise by one of the gods so he can sneak up on the people who are inhabiting his home and unlikely to give it back willingly. And as the story unfolds, it is a famous scar (the result of a boar) that gives Odysseys away.
Our scars become a part of who we are. And that is sad. But it is also kind of beautiful. They are markers of our ability to endure, the character we have developed through adversity. Our scars show our humanity.
We have to allow ourselves permission to experience pain. We can’t rush it or shut it up or avoid it forever. Suffering is a human reality. And if we steward it honestly, it becomes a beautiful scar.