Former teachers do silly things. As much as I have told students over the years that vocabulary is best acquired by reading, hearing and using words rather than through dictionary exercises, this former teacher still found herself going to a dictionary when one certain word kept circling my mind. The word was “pain.” But, not the physical type of pain that we usually associate with that word, though that certainly is a terrible thing. Instead, I was looking for insights into the emotional and mental type of pain. That seems a far more complicated issue to me. Or, maybe I just seek for answers because this is the type of pain with which I am most familiar.
Webster provides the following among its definitions of pain: “acute mental or emotional distress or suffering: grief.” Really? Grief is a synonym of emotional pain? I considered that for a moment. I have always thought of grief as the process of dealing with and recovering from a loss. But, isn’t every moment of emotional pain I have ever experienced the result of dealing with a loss? There is pain in the loss of relationship. There is pain in the loss of justice. There is pain in the loss of significance. There is pain in the loss of a dream.
So, perhaps healing from emotional pain means that I must go through the entire experience of grieving the loss that caused the pain. Many people have written about the stages of grief since Kübler-Ross identified them. There seems to be general agreement that stages of grief are not necessarily sequential and some stages may repeat numerous times. For me, though, the stage of denial has always been a particular favorite. I pretend that I am not in distress and try to continue as though there was no hurt. Some degree of denial – or rather numbness – may have its place when an extremely hurtful life event contains simply too much pain to absorb all at one time. Yes, a degree of numb denial might allow me to weather an initial shock. But, if I stay in that state, I know I’ll have no hope of healing.
And, healing is exactly what is needed for recovery from emotional pain. I don’t just “get over it” as time goes by. Yes, time is involved, but so is intentionality. I believe that healing occurs best in community; but I also know that when the hurt or disappointment is the greatest, I am most likely to isolate myself. I need someone outside myself to begin the process.
A very dear friend of mine has ongoing back issues. Left to her own devices and without intervention, her pain grew increasingly debilitating. But, with the aid of a surgeon who did what she could not by cutting away much of the source of the pain, there is now hope for a healing that goes beyond a simple masking of symptoms. I believe that emotional pain works the same way. After owning and experiencing the pain that I carry, I need to allow the surgeon – or rather the Great Physician, Jehovah-Rapha, the Lord who Heals – to reveal and then to cut away from within my heart the source of my hurts, disappointments and grief. Pain will never be completely eliminated in this earthly life. But, I can open my heart to the surgery. Then the Great Healer and Restorer can take whatever remains and use it in a way only He could imagine, returning me in the process to a place of joy.
Admit the pain is there. Open yourself to the surgery. Experience healing. Joy will return. How do I know? Been there, done that.