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Pain Transforms Us

Yellow Narcissus

I was pondering whether or not to write a blog post tonight. When I stay up late, I usually find myself in a deep fog for most of the morning, barely able to articulate a sentence. But when I try and write during the day, words fail me and I become painfully illiterate. So, tomorrow is going to be a fog-filled morning with infinite cups of coffee.

I think we would all agree that life is unbearably messy at times and most certainly unpredictable. We find ourselves zigzagging down different pathways--some we choose to travel and others just seem to be dark ambushes that lead to a whole lot of pain and despair. The dark alleyways we never imagined we would have to venture down loom ahead. When we turn to run the other way, we discover the only way exit is to walk through the dark until we get to the other side. It’s terrifying. The dark is unbearable, unexplainable, suffocating, and worst of all, we come to believe that nobody who walks down this particular path could come out the other side whole. We forget that we ever travelled on beautiful pathways. The mountaintop experiences fade and it’s as though we have never had a blessing in our life. Yet, Jesus promised we would have trouble that would shake us so badly that life would become essentially joyless. The mystics called this journey the “dark night of the soul.”

I have been reading Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, which is based on her journal writings during the time she was in Calcutta. What I didn’t know, was that for the whole time Mother Teresa served in Calcutta, she dealt with dark depression. She explained her loneliness and pain with intimate detail, yet she recognized that her darkness was the price of lighting the fire of love. She described her isolation as so total that it could only be likened to hell. “How terrible it is to be without God—no prayer—no faith—no love.” (Mother Teresa).

I feel so saddened that her heart was so alone. For fifteen years, she experienced deep heart pain. Her battle was intense, yet she valiantly fulfilled the quest God had given her, even when it cost her so dearly. I know that God wants us to experience abundant joy in life. I don’t believe it was ever his intention for Mother Teresa to experience so much deep pain. But the point is that she never allowed the darkness that closed in on her to take her off course. Her depression never closed her heart. She loved to the very last drop just like Jesus did. It cost him dearly too.

When I look at the pain in my own life and in the lives of the people I love, I see the beauty that comes from the ashes. When we allow the pain to break us open so we become stronger, wiser and more compassionate, we are reborn. Our pain literally causes something in us to die so that something else can be born. When we descend all the way down to the epicenter of our losses and dwell there, leaning fully into the pain and into the process with our hearts open, we can rise back up as one transformed—one who loves more deeply, feels more intensely, sees the world through the eyes of compassion and cares about the ache of those around us.

The landscape of our lives is continually changing. When we are summoned into the wilderness, God goes with us. In every place we go, he is our shepherd leading us through the valley seasons of our lives when it seems all hope is lost. He gathers us up when our hearts are breaking and holds us in the palm of his hand.

I want to leave you with a few questions to ponder with God:

How would you describe the landscape of your life right now?

Are you on a mountaintop, in a valley, at an oasis, in the desert?

What promise does he have for you at this point in your journey?

What does he want you to learn at this particular time?

What words of hope does he want to speak over you?

Goodnight everyone—I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my favourite authors:

Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone's face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love? These are the real questions. I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits, here in this world and the life to come. Henri Nouwen

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