That was in 1996. The years that followed were dark and heavy with an occasional glare from the sun. It was hard for me to understand how God could take from my family the one who loved us deeply and the one who served Him greatly. Life no longer made sense. Everything had been turned upside down.
It was poetry that provided a space for me to be with my pain without judgement. Perhaps it was my third space on my grief journey. It was where I could be honest and angry. It was where I could be authentic to my experience and honor the relationship I had with my Dad. Looking back, I can see that poetry was God's way of showing up all those tear-filled nights when I thought maybe He just didn't care enough.
Each of us has our story of pain and heartache. Whether it's a death of a loved one, a divorce or end to a relationship, or another great loss like that of a job or home, we can all relate to the sharp cuts that create our wounds. Our stories are not the same but we each, in our unique way, know suffering – ours and others.
So how do we move pass our wounds and our brokenness? How do we begin to build our life again? I’m asked those questions often as I facilitate poetry writing workshops, and I’ve been known to ask those questions too. But I don’t think the issue is really about getting over something as much as it’s about getting through something. We know how to act when we’re over the pain, but what do we do when we are dead smack in the middle of it?!
These are some of the questions we’re dealing with in the Deep Healing class that's part of the course of study at the Servant Leadership School of Greensboro. As people of faith, how do we life this life when we are hurt and broken?
Here are four thoughts I would like to offer based on my experiences and what I’m learning about compassionate healing.
1. We have to want to heal.
For us to make a move from pain to wholeness we must first want to be whole. We don't have to know how we are going to get from the pain to the victory (and it may take years) but we do need to desire healing and wholeness. I believe we all do somewhere deep inside and that we all know, in that sacred place within us, that healing is ours. We must accept, regardless of the situation, that God wants us to realize our healing, and to experience our divine wholeness. We may experience heartbreak but that doesn’t have to be our identity. For us to be used as a vessel for God we must not be perfect but operate from a place of love. When we are unhealed we are operating, often, from a place of pain.
2. We need support.
Community is essential. Pain and wounds have the uncanny ability to make us feel we are all alone. This is a side-affect and not the reality. When we are mourning and grieving, we must do it with others who will allow us to bear witness to the pain. This isn't the same thing as having a pity party but rather it's a place of knowing that we are supported in a nonjudgmental, healthy way. We are communal people. This doesn't change when we feel the sun will no longer shine. Get around people you love and who love you, folks whose shoulder you can lean on just for a little while.
3. We have to befriend the suffering.
We have to "welcome" the pain/loss (and the wound that the pain left) in order for it to transcend us and the experience. I know, this one is tough! Who wants to welcome what hurts? Our natural response is to reject that which is painful. This is part of the ego’s job – to tell us what it thinks will kill us, and "pain" falls in that category. We guard ourselves against it. Fight or flight. But, according to Henri Nouwen, when we step toward our pain without shame, fear and anger stopping us, we are able to see and feel God's presence in a deeper way. I believe there’s wisdom in that. It doesn’t mean to take on the attitude of being a martyr but instead to ask the pain what you are to gain from the experience, what it wants to show you. It doesn’t mean pain comes to teach us a lesson but we can use it to help us grow.
4. We must bless the pain and the experience.
Can you imagine, looking back over the pain you have felt, if you placed your hand over your heart, and without trying to understand, defend, justify, ignore, or shame the pain, you just simply acknowledged it? What would happen if, while your hand is on your heart, you said, as Tara Brach shares in her book Radical Acceptance, "I care about your suffering?" Would that be enough? I believe it is. In the moment of our pain what we need most isn't for it to go away but for it to be cared about. What we need in our moment of suffering is to experience great love and we have the opportunity to give that to our heart and spirit. The moment we do that has the opportunity to be a compassionate and holy moment.
I’m thankful that I’m surrounded by people who talk about and share what it means to be healed by self and God's compassion. I believe when we experience this level of compassion for ourselves we can’t help but to share with others that God’s love really does cover all things. Pain will come. It’s a part of our journey as a human being. But, our spiritual nature knows healing is available as well.
Love yourselves, Beloved. Speak kindly to your pain. When we are healed, the world heals.
In closing, here's a poem I wrote, inspired by my healing through my father's passing.
“A broken soul is not the absence of beauty, but a cracked and torn soul
reeks of the sweet incense it contains.” – C. JoyBell C.
Hold this up
as a cup your lips
do not touch
and offer it to the heavens --
slipping through thin moments.
This, lift up
higher than your thoughts
or ego or desire
as a sacrifice
and let the space be left
Let dry air fill it
if it chooses
but no other memory.
Lift this above
the whirling dust
to which we will
soon enough return.
But the memory itself --
let it ascend or simply be
Jacinta V. White
(from broken ritual)