This is part two in a two-part series entitled: Field Notes of Pain
There was this youth group kid that whittled. You know, the art of taking a piece of wood and turning it into a troll or something. He did that. And he was good. I was fascinated – first, that a high school boy liked to whittle. Random. Then I was fascinated by his work. He had an entire village of what I imagined to be Wemmicks.
You know about the Wemmicks. They’re the wooden people that walk around giving gray stickers to one another if they are ugly, or mess up, or fall down, and yellow stars to the attractive and talented. My favorite Wemmick is Punchinello. He gets a lot of gray stickers, but he is tired of them sticking. He wants yellow stickers like everyone else, that is, until he meets another Wemmick who has no stickers. Stickers don’t stick to her and he wonders why. She tells him it’s because she goes to see her maker, Eli, the woodcarver, everyday. He tells her who she is, not the other Wemmicks. Upon her advice, Punchinello goes to see Eli, covered in gray stickers. And when he leaves, one of his gray stickers fall off.
I was so impressed by this high school kid’s whittling. The delicate time it took to pick a piece of wood, envision what it would become, and then painstakingly carve away piece by piece by repeatedly cutting small slices from it. The process amazed me – his work was beautiful. Day after day, he cut away the pieces that needed to be removed, each stroke intentional, so that the piece of wood would become exactly what he wanted.
Maybe that’s why Jesus was a carpenter.
He seems to be into whittling a lot.
Whittling and pruning. Getting rid of the stuff we just don’t need. Trimming the fat. Molding, shaping us into exactly what we must become. What a painful, delicate process.
Someone asked me recently, “What do you know about pain that I don’t?” Great question. I wanted to tell him he’s asking the wrong person. There are so many people that live with pain much deeper than mine every day. But I know one thing, pain is pain. Sure, it has varying levels, and goes by different names, but it teaches the same lessons. People in pain get it. Pain is just plain pain. Most of us are too tired to compare.
Pain also goes by Depression, last name, Grief. Commonly known as Sadness, Suffering, Agony, Sorrow, or Discomfort. Not to be confused with the rapper, T-Pain.
“So, what do I know?”
I have been sitting with that question and here’s what I’ve got so far.
Pain is a woman, I just know it. She is equal measure of strength and doubt. She has the power to destroy and the power to build up. She’s intimidating so most fear her, but everyone wants what she offers. She is like fire, no one wants to be burned, but we all want to be warmed by her flame. She is in charge of our fall and our rising. She challenges us, stretches us, and makes us better. We never would see what we see without her.
Pain is sneaky. Sometimes she hits us when we least expect. Like a surprise attack or covert operation. Pain doesn’t give us time to sit down, brace for impact, or rally the troops.
Pain sucks. No one really likes her. Even exercise people don’t like Pain, they like the results of her. And I think that’s true for non-workout people too. We like the results, the perspective, the beauty we discover lying beneath Pain, but we don’t like Pain itself.
God allows Pain to shape us. And He can stop her. But sometimes He chooses not to. Why? I don’t always know. But I do know Pain matures us, stretches us, produces endurance, gives us a heavenly perspective, and draws us close to God. There is nothing else, not even beauty, that has a way of doing that.
Pain is also how we share in the sufferings of Christ. I’d say He was a pain pioneer. The very God we worship doesn’t just know about Pain, He has felt her. I find so much comfort in Jesus’s words just hours before the he was murdered: “Father, any other way. But if not, Your will be done.
Any other way. But if not….Your will above mine.
Here’s the other thing I know about Pain. There’s a before and after. And you can never go back to the time you didn’t know her. You will always be “after.” You can redefine, you can reshape, you can recreate, you can be better, but you will never be the same.
Maybe this is true, too, about Pain. It’s always the most painful in the midst of her attack – most evident the moments after Shock leaves. The further removed from Pain we are, the harder it is to recall the moments of impact. Sure, we still grieve and it may feel “just like yesterday” it happened, but as the days pass, and Pain lifts, it is harder to access the fresh waves from when we first felt her. This is especially true if we end up getting what we wanted, for example, a baby. Once the baby is here, we barely can remember the pain of not having a child. Gratitude moves into Pain’s place.
I barely remember hearing the words “Sanfilippo” for the first time. I know where I was and I know how I felt, but I can’t feel that anymore. I can never hear it for the first time again. I have felt the weight of Sanfilippo for almost 8 years now. It is getting heavier, but I can’t feel what the first blow felt like. I surely can feel each new sting regression brings, but as the years pass, the more removed I get from those initial feelings.
Pain has a way of connecting us to one another. When we know her, we don’t need to talk about the weather. Pain has a magnetic effect. Pain draws her to herself. In fact, it’s hard to come to the surface when we swim in such deep waters. The surface doesn’t make much sense in light of the depths Pain has taken us.
Ever walk out of a hospital and wonder how people are functioning? How is the world continuing to move? And why the hell are people worried about such stupid crap? Pain has a way of sifting all the insignificant away, leaving behind only the things, the people, that matter.
I for sure know Pain can invite us to a really lonely, dark, isolating place. She can stop time and stop joy if one isn’t careful. Shutting down is the default of Pain. So is anger, bitterness, jealously, comparison and violence. One must proactively seek light, proactively seek living. Life is something you have to fight for.
Remember going to the basement when you were a kid? I do. I still run up the stairs sometimes. What is it about the basement that is so scary? Even with the lights on, my body gets tense and clammy and I swear there’s someone in the corner that is going to get me. Pain is like that basement. Everything thing inside of us is yelling, “Abort!” “Abort!” “Run!” But we can’t.
We can’t rush her away.
I guess once you are forced to be with her, you learn to leverage your time in the basement. I even have an office down there now. Pain is my teacher, a welcome guest. And we have a love-hate relationship. And those who get that are the ones who rise.
You know what else makes the basement and Pain less scary? People. Not going alone.
No, Pain, Depression, Sorrow, whatever name you use for her, is better shared. But finding people that want to sit in the basement can be hard, because a lot of people want to talk down there. And you don’t talk much when Pain is talking.
Pain makes you feel helpless, because she isn’t meant to be fixed all the time. She’s just supposed to be seen, felt, and experienced. It’s like quicksand, the more we wiggle, the more stuck we become. In order to survive, we have to lay there and just breathe until we can hold onto something beyond ourselves and wait to be pulled out.
You know what is a surprising lifeline to grab hold of? Throwing rope to other people. Specifically people in more pain than us. It helps us find purpose in the midst of the basements and quicksand. We ask “what” questions instead of “why” questions. Seems like when we leverage our own pain for the benefit of others, it actually helps us out, too.
Funny how that works.
You know what else works? Changing your perspective. Being grateful. Even if it starts from the littlest things. Like saying, “I really miss my loved one. (Truth) I am really thankful for him/her. (Also true). Gratitude and Grief need one another. In fact, a lot of conflicting emotions co-exist.
I also know Pain wins sometimes. There are just days we can’t rally. We can’t rise above. There are moments, days, seasons where she just wins. There are times we feel utterly alone and defeated.
But. Big but! We serve the Suffering Savior. A personal God who GETS Pain. A God who has felt her sting. A God who is with us in the midst of Pain’s lectures. A God who is light to the darkness. A God who doesn’t abandon us even when we feel abandoned.
And one thing is for sure, Pain doesn’t have to win in the end.
What else do I know about Pain?
I know I still have a lot to learn from her because she’s still in my basement.
But if there is any other way, Lord…
”When pain knocks on the door, wise ones breathe deep and say: ‘Come in. Sit down with me. And don’t leave until you’ve taught me what I need to know.” Glennon Doyle Melton
*Used with permission.
Writer and Speaker
Stefanie is a writer and speaker, best known for her unique perspective when it comes to difficult circumstances. She is no stranger to the pain and beauty of this world, and the tension that comes from living in the midst of both. Most importantly, she is a wife, mother of 3, and an inspiration to many.
Stefanie started writing and speaking as a way to share the things she is learning from parenting her children, two of whom have a rare, regressive terminal disease, called Sanfilippo Syndrome.
In the midst of the pain and suffering that comes from knowing you are going to lose two of your children to an incurable disease, which most people would consider their worst nightmare, we see Stefanie’s strength. And she will be the first to say that it comes from her faith and trust in Christ.
On November 13 2017, Stefanie’s son, Jayden went to be with his Savior, just eight months later, their daughter, Brooklyn (9) did too.
Henri J.M. Nouwen
This book reflects on the spiritual significance of death and life in this moving meditation dedicated to "all those who suffer the pain that death can bring and who search for new life." A long letter to Nouwen’s father after the death of his mother. A book to pass on to anyone who is going through a period of grief after loss.
In 2008, and her husband Todd (lead singer of the group Selah) learned through ultrasound that their fourth daughter had conditions making her “incompatible with life.” Advised to terminate the pregnancy, the Smiths chose instead to carry this child and allow room for a miracle. That miracle came the day they met Audrey Caroline and got the chance to love her for the precious two-and-a-half hours she lived on earth.
Cindee Snider Re
This 10-chapter study invites participants to experience radical hope and compassionate change in a life with chronic illness.
No matter how dark the days, how wild the storm, deep the valley, or how long the winter, there is hope.
There is always hope.