A Broken People: Sitting with the Pain

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.


Filed under Theology, Urban Ministry

5 responses to “A Broken People: Sitting with the Pain

  1. Statistics show that the holiday season invokes pain in many people. The depressed become more so; the suicidal become more so. We understand that this season is supposed to be a time of forgiveness, but it is also a time of hurt, sadness, loneliness and misery for many. Too many hurts come to the surface, and as we are hurt by those closest to us the most, especially our family, it is those memories that come to the surface now. Thank you for an entry that reminds us that it is okay that we are still hurt, still in pain. Thank you for reminding us that it is indeed humane to feel hurt. May we all find a listening ear this season, to help us heal from our hurts, and, if not to forgive those who have trespassed against us, to at least forgive ourselves for still feeling anger and hurt.

    • wmccaig

      Steve you are so right to point out the difficulty in forgiving ourselves. As I was writing this post it hit me that often we blame ourselves for allowing others to hurt us and it dawned on me…Jesus was betrayed and no one would fault him. We have all been taught that every relationship is a two way street and that we often play a part when relationships get messed up and I think there is a lot of truth in that but we can’t blame ourselves for the choices others make nor can we force ourselves to feel differently than we feel.

  2. Joyce

    Thanks Wendy.
    I think this is the hardest thing I ever have to do. I am so happy to encourage. I love working through the Bible with someone. I am ecstatic about sharing the value of the disciplines. I am always eager to pray for somone. BUT when someone is devastated, crushed and hurt I am lost – I can quote some scripture, offer to pray, dig through my brain for some means for relating, but ultimately I feel anxious to fix it. I know that isn’t God’s plan – I know He wants to me to just be there and I do often work hard to just zip and do the whole “Be still” thing, but it is the hardest part of Good God work.

    • wmccaig

      I love your honesty. I know I am not good at being present with folks who are suffering deeply and I really struggle being present with people who are angry. However, I know how healing it was for me when I was hurting and angry to have someone listen to me (usually my poor husband) but it was healing none the less.

  3. Steph Rice

    Acknowledging that not everyone experiences comfort and joy during the holidays is so important. Some have been hurt or betrayed or are spending the holidays without someone they love or all of the above. As ministers we must be aware of this and be able to simply be there. You make a good point, Wendy about it being about presence and not about words. When people are hurting they simply need a safe space to express their feelings and know that there is someone around them who doesn’t look down on them for feeling that way. When I was at the University of Richmond we even had a Blue Christmas service where people would come and express the sadness or hurt they feel during the holidays and mourn those they were not able to spend the holidays with. It was a great example of how those who aren’t cheery all through Thanksgiving and Christmas are not alone. I, myself, am not going to have the merriest Christmas ever, but I know that my family will be supportive and allow me to feel and be hurt while encouraging me to heal and find joy again. I hope that I can be that ear for others who are hurting this season and let them know they are free to feel and that they are not alone.

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