I have gone through a fair amount of painful experiences in my life. I had three miscarriages in my twenties, lost my father to suicide at age thirty, my daughter suffered a major medical condition two years ago, and I have had those I minister to lie to me, slander my name, steal from me and betray me. Obviously the most difficult experience was the loss of my father, but the thing that has been hardest for me to overcome has been the betrayal.
Betrayal has a sneaky way of making you distrust yourself. After the most significant incident of betrayal that I have ever suffered, it took me almost two years to regain my ability to trust my own judgments about people. To this day, I am scarred because of that betrayal. There are some people I will never trust again. I recognize that those who wounded me were mentally ill and/or ignorant of how their actions hurt me, but that does not mean the wounds they inflicted are not real.
I think we often have a really unhealthy understanding of the doctrine of forgiveness. We often use the goal of forgiveness to push people out of their place of pain because we can’t handle their suffering. We encourage people to “forgive” as though they can wipe the slate clean and be “fixed.” We refuse to allow people to be angry at the injustice. I truly believe I have forgiven those who have hurt me but that does not mean I am not still wounded by their actions nor does it mean that I have to pretend it never happened.
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to sit with a number of wounded people. It is probably one of the most difficult things in the world to do. However, it is also one of the most important things we are called to do as ministers. A friend of mine shared that she has always been in churches in which the pastor’s role was to perform “pastoral visits” to those who are sick, suffered death, or experienced other form of trauma. I wonder how many pastors still do pastoral visits any more. In the age of Facebook, Twitter, and email; are we willing to simply be present with people in their pain? Are we so focused on growing our churches and ministries that we are too busy to simply sit with those who are suffering? Do we even know how to be present with people who are in pain?
As one who has suffered a fair amount, I can say the most helpful thing for me was being in the presence of people who let me feel what I was feeling without trying to convince me I should not feel that way. I think the thing that was most difficult for me was being around people who would not allow me to be angry. They wanted me to quickly “forgive” and “move on.” I have written in prior posts about the importance of lament but I really don’t think we get it. Anger is not a “bad” emotion. It is not something to be shoved under the rug. When we do not allow people to be angry, we are handicapping them and forcing them to stuff all that anger deep inside where it only turns into un-forgiveness and bitterness. The key to being present with people in pain is the ability to be silent and allow others to process their suffering. What we say is not as important as what we don’t say.
Reverend Janie Walker who serves as the Program Director for Embrace, shared with her team that for the month of December, the team will make space in their weekly gatherings with the community to be present with people both in their joy and in their pain. Today a friend of mine in Hillside shared how she was mistreated by a family member over Thanksgiving and she was hopping mad about it. I am so thankful that she can share her anger and not be told “You need to forgive him and move on” but will instead here, “We are so sorry that you were treated that way, tell us what happened.”
Rev. Walker is a very wise woman. She knows that the holiday season often brings to the surface past hurts that can rob us of the joy of this season. By coaching our team in how to be present with people’s pain, I pray we will create a space for healing and release for our friends and for ourselves.
Any of us who have been on the planet for any significant period of time have suffered loss and betrayal. Do you have a safe person in your life that loves you enough to be present in your pain? Is God calling you to be that still small voice that can sit in silence while another shares their suffering?
I have been reflecting a lot this advent season on the incarnation. Jesus took on flesh and experienced everything we experience; even the betrayal of one of his closest friends as well as the religious authorities of his day.
As we move through this advent season, I pray your brokenness will find healing and that those of you who are suffering are surrounded by people who will simply be present with you. I pray we all remember that even when the world does not understand the pain we feel, we have a savior who truly understands and who is always present with us, especially in our pain.