“There was nothing attractive about him,
nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over,
a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through his bruises we get healed.” (Isaiah 53:2-5, The Message)
I don’t like pain. I’m not at all into the feeling of discomfort. I am told by a few lady friends who have had kidney stones that they are as painful as childbirth, if not worse. I’ll take their word for it. I completely believe them because I have had a few stones in my life. The last time I had one, I vehemently demanded and commanded the emergency staff at the hospital to help me now, and to get me the strongest pain relieving drugs known to humanity now. I thought I was giving birth to a boulder, and I did not just want pain relief; I needed it. The pain was acute, and there was no way to let my body relax enough to pass a stone without some significant medicinal intervention.
We often use the word “pain” as if it is a one-size-fits-all for a range of unpleasant experiences. But the reality is that there is a world of difference between physical pain and emotional pain. As painful as those kidney stones were, nothing compares to feeling deep emotional pain. It hurts more than a hundred stones. It’s a different kind of pain, requiring a different kind of remedy.
When we have physical pain, it is both good and right to work on alleviating the pain through the wonderful drug therapies which exist. More than once I thanked God for morphine. But emotional pain is unlike any other kind of hurt. Whereas immediate pain relief is often necessary to the body in order for it to heal, such is not the case with the soul. Emotional pain, the kind where our spirits are broken and our souls are damaged, the kind where dreams are shattered and hope drains from the spirit, will not simply go away or ever be alleviated apart from actually feeling it in all of its ugly hurt.
Trying to mask, cover-up, or numb emotional and spiritual pain will not do. Working harder or faster; imbibing a few strong adult beverages; smoking; overeating; a shopping spree; or pornography are not paths to properly handling the kind of pain that is deep down in the soul. Binging on sports or Netflix might temporarily distract a person from emotional pain, but it doesn’t make it go away. In fact, it only exacerbates the future pain. Try and put a lid on emotional pain and it will only explode its contents on others who don’t deserve the unhealthy barrage of words and behaviors.
Emotional pain must not be ignored, circumvented, or stuffed. It needs to be faced squarely and deeply felt. One must resolutely walk into it and through it because it is the only way to effectively deal with it. Unlike the human body, which is designed to heal itself when given the chance through meds and rest, the soul cannot heal unless it recognizes its hurts, names them, and feels them. To try and work around it, believe we can simply buck-up and get over it, or wrongheadedly think it only belongs in the past, will not do.
Jesus entered into our pain. He felt terrible physical pain as well as agonizing emotional pain. The pain of the entire world was focused on him. Christ intimately knows our pain first hand. The path to healing goes through the cross – not avoiding it or going around it, but facing it in all of its foulness, degradation, and pain.
When my emotional pain seems to go right down into the marrow of my bones to the point where my insides hurt, popping some pills will not help. I don’t need my pain masked; I need it transformed. I need to crucify my disappointments, my missed expectations, and my desire for revenge. I need to nail my perfectionism, my puny attempts at control, and my avoidance of forgiveness to the cross. And I need to see that by the wounds of Jesus Christ I am healed. Only through entering into Christ’s pain, and allowing him to enter mine, will I ever experience the long sought healing deep in my soul so that my insides are made right once again.
The emotional kidney stones of my soul are transformed by the rock of my salvation, Jesus Christ. The great servant of Jesus, the Apostle Paul, said that he has been crucified with Christ and he now no longer lives, but Christ lives within him (Galatians 2:20). The cross was not simply an historical event occurring two millennia ago; the crucifixion is a past action with the continuing results of genuine deliverance and real healing. Pain is a gift, and one that must be opened and acknowledged, seen and felt, and transformed.