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Suffering


The Real (Suppressed) You

An amazing little passage from Frank Lake’s book on pastoral care. This could be filed away under “what not to do” in moments of great suffering. Lake discusses the human need to have negative feelings, that therealities of rage, anxiety, loneliness or grief should not be kept hidden or suppressed. In the realm of church groups, though, or really any other kind of group, Lake notes that these negative feelings are often seen as problematic and unattractive, even unacceptable. They are often, in these circles, evidence of a lack of faith, a lack of self-esteem, a lack of personal grit. When we are this person, the suffering one in need of a listening ear, we are aware that this is a risk, putting ourselves out there like this. Lake, like Brené Brown, argues that it is a huge act of bravery to be vulnerable about these unseemly emotions.

Sometimes, though, the pain is too great and we just have to share. And instead of finding friends who have faced the same demons, we find strangers who seem not to know what we’re talking about. There are awkward silences, darting glances, pained faces, a quick change of the subject. Someone in the group gets the group “back on track,” and our negative feelings–the thing that derailed the conversation–are cast aside as if they were never spoken to begin with. Here’s Lake:

The effect of this put-down on the anxious sharer is devastating. They feel the group life they have come to depend on and their acceptance in it are tottering on the brink of disintegration. They have shared the worst that they fear to be true of themselves and the group quite plainly did not want to know.

Next week there is a crisis: do I go again or do I stay away? If I do go, who is it that goes? The chastened/corrected John or Mary, resolved never again to risk being disgraced, resolved to act the cheerful charismatic cover-up to the evident satisfaction of all? But that is not the essence of renewal but of the old religion. However skillfully last week’s well-shamed sharer contrives…there will be anger hidden.

Isn’t this, after all, the defining character trait of “religion,” why it so often carries connotations of phoniness, grandiosity, and abstraction? And isn’t this what Jesus came to save us from, from our contrived sense of personal wellbeing? Throughout the gospels, Jesus seems to ask the question of the wounded ones he encounters (and, by extension, of us): where is the real you, not the corrected you? Where is the wound? Everything that is hidden will be brought to light, and released, made new.

It Comes at Night and the Fear of Grief

It Comes at Night and the Fear of Grief

If you’ve caught any trailers for It Comes at Night, you know it’s a scary one. I went to see it the other day, and, preparing for the worst, I took a seat near the back and nestled in behind my popcorn. Sensing a particularly horrific part coming, I fixed my eyes at a corner of the screen. Alas the scares came too suddenly for me to look away, but for the most part, I didn’t want to. In Trey Edward Shults’ second feature, not all was as it seemed. It Comes at Night promised something sinister lurking outside the red…

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Hopelessly Devoted: Matthew Chapter Five Verse Four

This morning’s devotion was written by Mary Zahl. 

“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.”
(Matthew 5:4, ASV)

Again and again, I have been struck by Christians using the language of faith to ward off the presence of pain. It’s understandable—pain is painful. All of us want to avoid it as much as possible, and when we can’t avoid it, we try what we can to minimize its side effects. As Christians, we get nervous admitting the depth of our pain, because what if it is a sign of a lack of trust in the goodness of God, a lack of faith?

I was listening to a friend tell me about her life in recent months. She had moved across the country after living happily in the South for many years. As I listened to her, it was clear to me that she was on the verge of tears from the change, but every time the tears came to the surface, she would say, “but I know I have so much to be thankful for, and I know God loves me, and that is all that matters.” No tears allowed.

I don’t believe in telling people what to do, but if I did, I would have said to my sad, exhausted friend, “What you need is a good cry. You have lost so much. Of course, there are also good things about your move, but you will not be able to see those clearly until you mourn the losses. Cry until you cannot cry any more. And, for God’s sake, don’t think your tears are a sign of faithlessness or ingratitude. Did not Jesus himself say, ‘Blessed are they that mourn?’”

When pain is denied or kept at bay, the sufferer misses out on the opportunity that comes with facing pain honestly, which is feeling the weight and powerlessness of it. Counterintuitively, the experience of going into the pain generally brings out compassion, peace, and even joy on the other side.

Like the day we call Good Friday, our deaths (no matter how small) can be transformed—resurrected—such that we might even call them good. Conversely, when we hold onto words of “Christian hope” almost as if they were magic, we miss out on the joy and hope that come when the resurrection power is given rather than grasped.

The Taste of Freedom

The Taste of Freedom

Reading through Noel Jesse Heikkinen’s book, Unchained, I was struck by this incredibly moving story about North Korean prison camp survivor, Shin Dong-hyuk, who escaped in 2005:

His father and mother were born in the same prison because his uncles had defected to South Korea. North Korea has a well-known policy of “three-generations of punishment” they inflict on those who oppose (or are even suspected of opposing) the government. Because Shin was born in the prison, he knew no other life. In his mind, the entire world was Camp 14, and there were only two types of people in the world: prisoners and guards. You…

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From the Archives: Thy Jilted Lover Shall Rejoice (Again)?

From the Archives: Thy Jilted Lover Shall Rejoice (Again)?

In anticipation of the third NBA Finals meeting (in a row!) between the Warriors and Cavs, we thought this might be a timely one to resurface from last year’s series. 

Don’t look now but Loserville–the “mistake on the lake” that is Cleveland Ohio–is about to improbably get their NBA championship. The stars are aligning around the Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s really pretty incredible. We had anointed the Golden State Warriors repeat NBA champions back in February, while they were on their way to the best NBA regular season of all-time. Stephen Curry had supplanted Lebron as the best player on the planet….and…

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The Absorption of All Our Rage

The Absorption of All Our Rage

In an age defined by emotional rage, political divisiveness and correctness, the recurring themes of the victim-culprit blaming, I have been comforted by God’s message to us in the cross. This passage comes from Frank Lake’s short book on pastoral counseling, in which he deals with both the problem of rage in social justice/injustice, but also the problem of individual victimhood and its corresponding rage. Where can it go? What can be done with it? Lake offers the supercessory response offered to the angry by God in the cross of Christ. 

Many years ago, I met, in a friend’s rectory, which he kept as a home…

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And the Rough Places Plain

And the Rough Places Plain

I’m not unfamiliar with the general decay of the human body. My dad was a priest and a hospice chaplain, and my family didn’t shy away from having elderly or sick relatives stay with us as they reached the end of their lives. I was born with only two grandparents, my mother’s parents having died when she was a girl. I was named for an aunt who died about a month before I was born. She died in the church parking lot after volunteering there one morning. By the time I was a teenager, I was on a first-name basis with all…

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The Promethean Appeal of #Vanlife

The Promethean Appeal of #Vanlife

If you created a spectrum, and put freewheeling adventurers on one side, I, sadly, would fall on the opposite end. Still, even my cautious heart stirred a bit when I read a recent New Yorker article by Rachel Monroe about a hashtag called #vanlife.  The article focused on a couple – Emily King and Corey Smith – who, in the winter of 2013, purchased a Volkswagen van, left New England in a snowstorm, and headed south. Soon, the couple’s popular Instagram “Where’s My Office Now?” had drawn enough interest to gain them corporate sponsorships (including GoWesty – a company that services…

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An Un-Earnable Love and the Tragic Death of Performance: "Emotional Stuff" on 3 Mics

An Un-Earnable Love and the Tragic Death of Performance: “Emotional Stuff” on 3 Mics

This reflection comes from Julian Brooks.

Lately I’ve been on a standup comedy binge thanks to the power of Netflix, and I recently stumbled upon Neal Brennan’s special, 3 Mics. For those of you that don’t know, Neal Brennan was the co-writer of Chappelle’s Show oh too many years ago and has since been quietly writing behind the scenes for several other comedy shows.

The special is fantastic in its own right. As the title suggests, there are three mics set up on stage for Neal when the show opens. Each mic represents a different part of the show. One mic for witty one-liners…

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Finding Hope After 13 Reasons Why

Finding Hope After 13 Reasons Why

This post comes to us from Heather Strong Moore. 

What was your worst day? In what ways do you still think about it? How does it still effect you now? We all carry around our own personal blend of wounds and disappointments. This may be a factor in the show 13 Reasons Why becoming such a phenomenon among young people. A Netflix original, it has only been out for a couple of weeks and already is one of the most viewed series they’ve created.

Based on a book by the same title from author Jay Asher, this show follows a teenage girl named Hannah Baker. You…

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Hallelujah Anyway: Anne Lamott's Latest on Rediscovering Mercy

Hallelujah Anyway: Anne Lamott’s Latest on Rediscovering Mercy

I have loved Anne Lamott since I read her first memoir, Traveling Mercies, when I was in law school. In a world where I was, quite literally, surrounded by law, I heard grace in her words, and it was the drink I didn’t even know I was thirsty for. Later, Lamott’s Operating Instructions, her memoir about her son’s first year, prepared me for motherhood in a way that all of the What to Expect books failed to do.

Naturally, I wanted to share my enthusiasm for my favorite lay theologian with my friends, some of whom scoffed at Lamott’s personal history: how could they…

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When #adulting Gets Real: A Christian Response to Suffering

When #adulting Gets Real: A Christian Response to Suffering

I’m slightly ashamed to admit that at least once in the past three years, I have used the hashtag #adulting without the least bit of sarcasm. We were on a weekend trip with two other couples to Pittsburgh, where we visited the Warhol museum, ate at a nice restaurant, and drove out to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. It was a totally stereotypical weekend trip for millennials, and we knew it. But #adulting felt fun. We felt “mature.” Yet in reality, we were less “being adults” and more “playing” at some version of what we thought it meant to be…

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