Monday, October 28, 2013

Stewarding Our Pain

Recently I read an essay by Frederick Buechner entitled, "Adolescence and the Stewardship of Pain." (If you have never read anything by him I would highly recommend giving him a read. This essay was in the book The Clown in the Belfry.) In it he talks about the parable where the master gives, five, two and one talents to his servants, goes away, then comes back to call them to account about what they have done with their talents. Instead of viewing this a bestowment of gifts or money to the servants, Buechner asks us to think about the talents as experiences of pain. What do we do with the pain we are dealt, the hard things, the painful memories? Do we bury them somewhere deep, in distraction and busyness, or do we open ourselves up and share with others this universal experience of pain?

I don't know about you, but sometimes I just feel like I'm burdening others with my pain. Do people really want to know how I'm doing when they ask? Sometimes I think they really don't. And I'm not at all saying we should open ourselves up to everyone who asks...sometimes just a "Doing okay, thanks" is the best answer for the moment. But with a good friend, am I protecting them or myself when I pretend and gloss over my pain?

One night about a year ago I was out at a birthday dinner with about 7 or 8 women. Everyone there looked so pretty and well-dressed and happy. The conversation was light and laughter was in the air. At some point the conversation turned to a young woman I viewed as having a picture perfect life--great kids, husband, looked beautiful, always smiling. Someone asked her how she was doing. They had had several big changes in their family life in the last year and so someone asked how everything was going. She smiled--then she became serious and said, "It's been a really, really hard year." Friends looked at her, not really knowing how to respond, so she quickly said, "It's been a good year, but it's also been really, really hard."

I already loved this friend but I knew from that moment I wanted her to be a close friend for life. To be so brave and vulnerable with good friends in a setting that was not exactly conducive to being open and vulnerable---it amazed me. But it also allowed me to see she was hurting and I wanted to be an encouragement and a friend if I could. How else would I have known she was hurting? I would never have guessed from outward appearances or her face (always smiling). It was a gift to me--to see her humanness and her need of friendship. In some mysterious way, instead of feeling burdened I felt emboldened--to not pretend and not be fearful.

In Buechner's essay he says:
     "To trade is to give of what it is that we have in return for what it is that we need, and what we have is essentially what we are, and what we need is essentially each other. The good and faithful servants were not life-buriers. They were life-traders. They did not close themselves off in fear but opened themselves up in risk and hope. The trading of joy comes naturally because it is the nature of joy to proclaim and share itself. Joy cannot contain itself, as we say. It overflows. And so it should properly be with pain as well, the parable seems to suggest. We are never more alive to life than when it hurts--never more aware both of our own powerlessness to save ourselves and of at least the possibility of a power beyond ourselves to save us and heal us if we can only open ourselves to it."

With the recent loss of my brother David, I am experiencing the pain once again of losing someone close to me. David was a gift to everyone who met him and especially to his family. Our family is now altered again in a very unwelcome way and every family gathering will feel hopelessly wrong without David among us. Allen and I were feeling so hopeful and comforted because God had brought so much healing to our hearts regarding losing Joseph. The pain was so deep and pervasive for several years after he died and in the last year or so it has just felt lighter and more intermittent. But now again I feel pummeled by sadness, as does everyone in my family--my parents more than all of us. And while we have the joy and hope of knowing he is complete and whole with his Savior, Jesus, we also have the deep sadness and feeling of loss here on earth. Why would God take someone who so obviously loved well and shared Jesus with everyone he met? And why to our family? We have already lost one child. Do we need to experience this pain again?

I know all the right answers in my head, but my heart still just doesn't understand. I guess I'm hopeful, though, that I can be brave and open in my pain, that I won't bury it but share it...not to be a burden but to be an honest friend. Jesus wants us to come as we are, but I think so often I try to come as I ought to be. I'm afraid what I have is too much or too burdensome, that I should get it together a bit before I bring myself to Jesus or to anyone else. But the beautiful thing about our Savior is that he welcomes the weak and weary, the lost and was us he had in mind when he died.

I know from experience I will feel this sadness for a really long time, that it will never feel right or good that David died, but I also know that my sadness and pain are only truly safe in Jesus' hands. Turning to any other good thing or person will ultimately leave me empty. Hiding it, ignoring it, and burying it will leave me bitter and cold. Only feeling my pain and anger and bringing them to Jesus will bring true healing. I just pray for the courage to do so.

"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.…" Matt. 11:28-29


Brooke said...

Thank you so much for sharing, Gil. Loved these words and experiencing a heavy heart once again for your pain and loss. I so agree about sharing and how much freedom and healing it can bring. Amazing to see how God works through our friends when we open up to them.
With love,

Gillian Peabody said...

Hi Brooke! Thanks for to you and your family!

Christy said...

This may be my favorite of your posts. (I probably think that all the time.) It needs to be published somewhere. And it makes me want to get out The Clown in the Belfrey again. Love you!

Dan Rollman said...

I am challenged for the better, and amazed at God's work in you, every time I read your posts Gillian.

Brea said...

I love you, Gillian. I am thankful for how you have shared your heart and your pain and let others be touched by how God is working in the midst of it.

Peamama said...

Praise God! Thanks so much for saying that. Only our God can truly turn our pain into a gift.

Peamama said...

Love you too, sweet friend. I'd love to hear your voice soon. Miss you!

Anonymous said...

Thinking about your family today. Loved reading the updates and being encouraged by them... I love seeing pictures of your beautiful family. (Can't believe how big Holly and June have gotten, plus the addition of Noah!) Hope things are great in Nashville!