In Pain in the Membrane

This week, I asked some of my  friends, "What is the hardest part of pain?"

The answers were varied, related, and insightful. Here are a few:

  • "The tendency to get fixated on it, unable to focus on anything else."
  • "The intensity, it's overwhelming. I can handle emotional pain, but physical pain is easily too much."
  • "Pain is manageable when I know it's temporary. When I don't know how long it will last, I don't know what to do."
  • "The hardest part for me is the feeling of being isolated and alone in pain. Pain is easier when it's shared and understood."

For each of us, the hardest part of pain can be different. Yet upon closer inspection, the hardest part of the pain is generally not the pain itself, it is how we react to it. 

You see, there's what happens. Then there's how I feel about it. Then there's what I do with it. Pain happens. In our bodies, in our hearts; be it physical or emotional, it all registers in the mind. Then there is our internal response, how we feel. This can be the place where we generate more pain, get lost in our feelings, become overwhelmed, and more. Then what do we do about it? Sometimes we make a story as to why we won't do X that got us hurt. Maybe we grieve, blame, weep, look for a silver lining, or seek an escape. 

For me, I often withdraw into myself. I can play the dramas in my head of how bad things feel, all while shutting out a connection with the very people that could help me to see my situation with new eyes. I resist pain, I avoid pain, I self-inflict further pain and do everything short of embracing the pain that is and letting go of what isn't. 

When you see the edges of pain or see a way in your brain for it to be managed, pain is no longer overwhelming. I see what parts of me are being affected, I adjust my focus and adapt accordingly. 

On my run to work, I felt the Whisper in my heart come to me, saying,

"Be thankful for whom you get to experience pain, and be thankful for those who feel your pain with you." 

When someone enters into my pain with me, the misery is no longer there. There may still be pain, be it mental or physical, but the edges of pain can be found. When pain is seen, acknowledged, understood, so am I. 

This is why the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation exists, to give us a narrative for our pain being seen, shared, and understood. 

To close, some questions:

  • What is the hardest part of experiencing pain (physical, mental, emotional, all of the above) for you?
  • How do you open up into the pain? What are your strategies for coping and moving forward?
  • Where in your journey has the experience of pain been a teacher for you? 
  • How has/hasn't pain helped you to be empathetic to others?

Sometimes we're in pain in the membrane; it's okay. The question is, what do we do with it?