Pain in Present Tense

With my voice I cry out to the Lord;
    with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord.
 I pour out my complaint before him;
    I tell my trouble before him.

When my spirit faints within me,
    you know my way!

 -Psalm 142:1-3


In church and amongst my Christian friends, I was always okay with being vulnerable as long as I could present trials in the past tense. Phrases like, “I was really struggling with X last week, but I’m okay now” or “I used to deal with Y a lot, but God totally delivered me” would regularly escape my lips. In short, I was okay with vulnerability as long as it was no longer relevant to my current life. As long as it didn’t put the listener into the position of having to dry my tears, or lead to a moment of awkward silence in which my listener would have to scramble for words.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has done this. Neatly packaged trials complete with a life lesson and shiny ribbon seem to be the mode of currency amongst many Christians these days. We craft these pristine summaries of our human condition, sparingly packing the perfect punches of pain in all the right places; and, of course, we always try to conclude with a hopeful outlook for the future so as not to leave the listener in discomfort. We then use these vacuum packed versions of suffering to pay for prayer, to pay for support, to pay for attention from God.

I’m the kind of person who loves to find connections and purpose behind every life event, so when there is no immediate answer or solution, that can be particularly troubling for me. I’ve often used these oversimplified life summaries to communicate with others in ways that will minimize discomfort. I’ve often pushed myself to find a spiritual or moral lesson in certain situations where I honestly don’t feel ready to do so yet.

To be honest, I’m still trying to decipher God’s hand of grace and purpose as I sift through the wreckage of pain, fear, hurt that this past semester has thrust me into. But I’ve felt a certain peace with the fact that it’s okay if I don’t have all the answers. The adequate expression of pain, as well as the healing and purpose that follows, takes time.

If you walk way with one message from this blog, let it be this: It’s okay if you can’t see over the precipice of your current pain. It’s okay if you can’t find an immediate purpose, goal, or end point to your suffering. It’s okay if you don’t know exactly how to voice your sufferings to God or others. God is fully capable of bringing beauty, meaning, and purpose into your pain, regardless of how you present it.

In fact, the bottom line is just that: you don’t have to present your pain in socially or spiritually acceptable ways. Rather, the pain with which you approach others and God can and should be an honest representation of your current condition. This kind of vulnerability—the kind that can sometimes come at mental and emotional cost—is some of the richest vulnerability I’ve encountered on my walk thus far as a Christian.

Of course, all of this being said, there are still certain occasions or groups of people that may not provide the safest or best environment for your pain. Pouring out your life’s sufferings to every person you come across is not only taxing for the listener, but for yourself. However, it is worthwhile to find groups of family and friends with whom you can kick the vacuum packed prayer requests aside and just be real.

 Although I have no deep spiritual insights to leave you with, I encourage you to read through a few of David’s Psalms of lament as a model of representing pain to God. Even reading through Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane is an awesome model of that. I pray that these passages would be an encouragement to you, and that each of us can better learn how to bring significant words and modes of expression to our present pains.



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