Pain vs Christianity
Shawna, Ellis, and I have just come through a lot of transition lately…four years, to be specific. Some of it has been painful and challenging. Other parts of it have been an incredible relief and outrageously beautiful. Maybe it’s just our circumstances tainting my vision, but I seem to see the majority of people I know or talk with going through some sort of transition. This has had me thinking a lot about what my faith has to say about death, resurrection, and peace.
For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
– Romans 8.22
Four years ago, our first son died before he was born. I’ve written about him before. He remains a part of our lives, conversation, and future. Since then though, we’ve experienced a deep sense of being lost.
To a certain extent, it has been by choice. As we noticed life going back to normal after he had passed it felt like saying to him, “You didn't matter. You didn’t change anything. We’ll just carry on as if you never were with us.” It felt wrong. So, for better or worse, we decided to completely uproot ourselves and begin adventuring.
We wanted to live adventurously, like we would have wished for our son. That has led us on a fairly wild ride of ups and downs and our experience has been a complete surprise to us. My hope, faith, and love were tried right down to their deepest core. It caused me to shed a lot of who I thought I was and how I knew to identify myself. It simplified my view of myself quite a bit, which was a terribly painful process, but extremely revealing, and somewhat rewarding.
This new understanding of myself has also completely altered my view of others, mostly as it pertains to expectations. I have far fewer expectations on people. Life is so devastatingly hard. When someone is an asshole, I get it! In some regards, they have every right to be. The things that people endure on an external and/or internal level exceed the human mind’s ability to comprehend.
Most folks have no idea what secretly motivates them in conversation or relationships or life. I doubt that anyone really does. We are shaped by such an amazingly complex convergence of DNA, circumstance, impression, interpretation, and spirit, it seems impossible for anyone to be in control of it. The best we can do is just try to control our response, and that is a tremendous feat.
I am grateful for this deeper appreciation for the difficulty of life. I’ve not enjoyed the learning process, but I am incredibly grateful for the result. Seeing myself more simply has released me from a ton of illusions and delusional living. I realize there are a ton more, but this was a healthy layer of covering. These difficult years of loss and being lost have led us into greater intimacy, acceptance, and love.
I wish this appreciation of pain were more reflected in the church. Someone who has experienced devastating pain can tell when they are talking to someone who hasn’t. Platitudes are the worst. And for the most part, churches and many churchgoers represent themselves in a way that does not connect with people who know the pain of loss, which is a shame considering it is at the core of our Gospel.
About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud [agonized] voice, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
– Matthew 27.46
That verse isn’t quoted often in churches, but it lies in the crux of our Gospel story. Most of Christianity over-identifies with the Resurrection (redemption, forgiveness, new life, etc) with very little consideration given to the Crucifixion (loss, darkness, painful transition, etc). This creates a disconnect between churches and the rest of creation because everyone else can't ignore the Crucifixion. It's happening. The two need to meet together, and the strange and difficult reality of life is that the experience of the joy and hope and exuberance of the Resurrection is proportionate to the depth of pain and experience of the Crucifixion.
I would say, the Crucifixion is still happening. And the Resurrection is still happening. The Christian journey is clearly a very personal, intimate, and internal one. Jesus did not say, “Let me pick up the cross for you.” He said, “Take up your cross and follow me.” Following Jesus does not free us of our cross, the reality of life; it lightens its weight by being shared. It brings meaning and significance to it.
What is most beautiful and significant and relevant about Christianity to me is the fearlessness of Divine Love indistinguishably intertwined with creation and the human experience. That is the summary of the Good News. Everyone is experiencing (or going to experience) a crucifixion, but the emotional and mental freedom to transcend it by the Way of Love/Christ is something of a Divine gift. It takes a deep sense of transcendent faith to believe that true Love and Resurrection really are an option, and the Reality.
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavily burdened [by religious rituals that provide no peace], and I will give you rest [refreshing your souls with salvation]. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me [following Me as My disciple], for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest (renewal, blessed quiet) for your souls. For My yoke is easy [to bear] and My burden is light.
– Jesus, Matthew 11:28-30 (AMP)