pain

Wisdom from Calvin and Hobbes

by Courtney Hollingsworth & Calvin and Hobbes

Change can be scary. It can be hard. It can be painful. It’s risky. It’s dangerous. Ignorance can be all of those things too. Neither option eliminates risk. You can choose to walk into the risk and embrace the scariness of it. Or you can choose to close your eyes, walk forward, and pretend it isn’t scary at all. Ignorance isn’t bliss. But don’t take it from me, take it from Calvin and Hobbes:



Sweet Sorrow

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

Living in this world means living in the tension between good and evil, love and sorrow, joy and pain.  It is to experience the pleasant comfort of cuddling with your spouse on the couch and to ache with the beauty of the moment, while knowing that the moment must inevitably end.  It is to experience the trauma of loss and death and to know that growth and wisdom often come through pain.  Juliet loves the sweetness of Romeo’s affection as they say “good night” and yet must release him for a time to do without it.

To deny or diminish either of the parts is to live out of balance.  To pretend there is no pain is to smother and  invalidate your genuine and legitimate grief.  To live in the pessimism that says “good is always crushed” is to smother real and life-giving joy.  We can exist in either of these out-of-balance ways, but we cannot truly live.

To love is to risk loss, and the more we love, the more pain we experience in the loss.  Intimacy requires vulnerability, and the more open and emotionally naked we become with the other, the greater the closeness and experience of connection.  We live in a world of friction, and yet within the friction there is heat and light and life itself.

If you are protecting yourself from either of these elements, consider that a full, rich experience of life in this world is only possible when we acknowledge the truth of sorrow and loss while holding on to solid hope that there is good and light in the world at the same time.

Theology Now

or, “When Faith Kicks in for Real”
by Jonathan Hart, LPC

I went on a 20 mile hike with my 9 year old son last weekend.  We took a couple of days, camped overnight, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Except the last four miles.

It started with two rumbles of thunder.  The rain turned on like a faucet. This was not wholly unexpected.  The forecast had predicted “scattered storms”.  We donned our ponchos and put away our lunches.  We, wisely or foolishly, chose to hike through it, since we were pretty close to the end.  I believed the storm would be over quickly.

I was wrong.  The rain persisted.  Thunder and lightning rolled, becoming if anything more frequent.  We hiked off the hilltop and were working our way down into the valley.  My son was nervous about the rain and the lightning, especially the close ones (I was too, but I tried to keep a brave face on for his sake).  Half an hour into the storm when the hail started falling, he became terrified.

We found a  fairly large bent tree trunk to hide behind.  It was enough to deflect most of the hail, but not all.  Both of us took a few hits. That had to have been the longest ten minutes of the whole trip, when dime-to-quarter sized chunks of ice were falling around and on us, lightning blasting overhead followed by deafening thunder and torrential rain. I seriously considered getting out our cooking gear and wearing the pots on our heads.

I knew that hail typically lasts only about 10 to 15 minutes, if that.  I did not know if we could expect larger hail than that which was currently pelting us. I didn’t know if there was a tornado in the vicinity.  My son was crying and starting to seriously freak out.  I was well on my to “Really Frightened” myself.  One of my most immediate thoughts was, “REALLY, God?  This couldn’t wait another hour or two?”  And then I thought, “What have I done to my son?”

I had been praying since the rain began.  Finally, faith kicked in.  I had a “Theology Now” moment.  I took my son’s face in my hands, looked into his eyes, and said (speaking as much to myself as to him), “As much as I love you, and would do everything I could to protect you and keep bad things from happening to you, God loves you more than I ever could.  He doesn’t always keep us from getting hurt, but he Always, Always loves and protects his children.  He is looking out for us right now, even though it might not seem like it.”

The hail stopped a few minutes later, as I knew it probably would.  The storm continued for another two and a half hours.  We survived, though we were thoroughly soaked and very, very tired of rain and lightning.

Theology Now is when the rubber meets the road in faith-land.  It is when what you say you believe meets up with what you really believe deep down.  It is the moment when the truth of doctrine pushes on and stretches our limitations and grows our capacity for real, honest-to-goodness trust.

The funny thing is that these moments don’t usually happen in the sunshine.  They usually happen right in the middle of an obnoxious storm.  We must be challenged, stretched, and tested painfully in order to grow our faith.  In this way, God often allows storms and painful times into our lives because he loves us. We must come to the end of our own strength in order to find and believe in His strength on our behalf.

–JH

One of Life’s Most Difficult Questions

By: Katy Martin, LPC
I had to do something today that was difficult.
I had to ask for help.
Our basement is getting refinished and, ideally, the new rooms need to be painted before it can be completely done.  My husband is in an extremely busy time at work, traveling a lot, and I’m pregnant: we need some help.
No, this isn’t life altering.  No, I’m not asking for a kidney or something major.
But we are legitimately in a season where we could use some help.  And it wasn’t fun to ask for something I feel like I should be able to handle on my own.
I know I’m not alone in this.  How often in life do we find it difficult to ask for help?
I think one of two things is sometimes happening: 
1. We are too prideful.  We don’t want to admit our need.  Asking for help puts at risk of being rejected.
2.  We are so used to our circumstances, pain, emotions, or ways of thinking that we don’t realize we even have a need that could be met.  We build a tolerance, not realizing that someone could ease our burden, take our burden, or that we don’t have to be alone. 
The trouble is that a lot of times no one else knows we need help.  We’re all busy going about our own lives, trying to survive, unaware of needs around us.  When it comes down to it, we have to admit our need to ourselves and make a step to invite someone in. 
Sounds easy, right?
No, it’s not that easy.  It’s a risk to invite someone in to help.  It’s a risk to admit that we don’t have it all together or that we can’t handle everything.  It’s a risk to be that vulnerable.  Our own stories of trust and mistrust keep us from opening up to others and/or skew our expectations.
It’s important to know whom you can trust and how to find appropriate avenues of care.  If it’s a difficult family member or friend who has hurt you, they might not be your best bet.  We have to identify people to be a part of our “team” as we do life.  Some times it means locating a counselor, pastor, or professional who can help you either in the situation or in identifying your “team.”  This can be a difficult process if you have experienced hurt by others or if the burden/situation/emotions are a major part of your life.
In the end, it’s worth the risk.   Sure, it’s safer to stay protected and not hear rejection or feel our pride raging.  However, inviting someone in can be a huge blessing just by being a part of your life and also by easing your burden or pain.
Today I awkwardly asked my friend to help us paint our basement.  She enthusiastically agreed to help, leaving me feeling blessed by her willingness and feeling hopeful about the work finally ending on our house.  Worth the risk?  Yes.  Good practice for the bigger trials in life?  Definitely.  We have to start somewhere.

A Prayer in Pain: Lamenting in Sadness, Depression, Grief, Disappointment, Sorrow…..

By: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC

I don’t think it a coincendence that many of our posts on this blog have talked about the lost and silent feeling that often accompanies pain, sadness, loss, grief, suffering, sorrow, depression, darkness, etc., like here and here and hereto just name a few. In these dark places in our lives and hearts, we are often at a loss for words or just don’t know where to start. In the Bible, godly people would cry out to God in prayer from those places, and it is called a Lament. I’m sure you can see that this is the root word for “lamenting.” There are many Laments in the Psalms and the book of Job, which God has given us. You can also write your own. A great book on this is A Sacred Sorrow, by Michael Card. Here is a a prayer of pain modeled after the way God has shown us in the Bible.

I jumped into the deep end, or I was pushed, I’m not quite sure.
The water is dark and icy, torrent like a storm.
I can’t even recall what the sunshine feels like on my face.
My tears well up in my heart, and overflow onto my cheeks,
Though they are veiled by the rain.
Do you see my tears?
Struggling to swim, gasping for breath,
My arms grow tired.
Do see my hands reaching for the sky? Do you even see me?
There are weights on my ankles,
And the more I fight, the heavier they become.
I wish I could say my voice is hoarse from calling out your name,
I wish I could say my eyes have never left the horizon, searching for your face.
I’m afraid I have drifted too far out to sea.
If you’re there, I cannot see you.
If you’re there, I cannot hear your voice.
Have you left me to struggle alone?
Do you see me at all, or have I wandered too far?
I told you I was prone to wander,
You knew it was true.
Where was your hand in mine?
Did you forget me too?
I just can’t do it anymore; I’m just not going to make it.
My Shepherd, you have never failed me, you have never let me drown.
I cannot save myself. I cannot protect myself, try as I might.
I must hide in the shadow of your mighty wing.
You see every tear I cry and hold it in your hand, my Comforter.
I long for the day when you will wipe away all my tears.
Keep me firm in your embrace until that day. Hold me fast.
I beg you not to let me drown.
Please do not forget me.

When Grief Suffocates

By:  Lianne Johnson, LPC

To experience grief is to be human.  Grief disorients us.  It exhausts us.  It clouds our ability to see clearly.  What was once our normal routine in life, which we accomplished with ease, now feels daunting.  Something that at one time caught our eye with its beauty now fades into a landscape of grey.  We feel less alive. 
During a season in my life where grief seemed paramount to any other thing, I remember feeling like I was suffocating.  It was harder to breathe.  Think.  See people I knew.  Talk.  What I used to consider “normal” in my life now seemed unattainable.  A new “normal” seemed to be settling in.  There were times when my chest felt as though a hundred pounds lay on top of it.  It hurt to breathe.  It hurt to be alive. 
Thinking seemed just as labor-some as breathing.   The more I allowed myself to think about the very thing(s) that was grieving me, the more suffocated I felt.  I tried not to think about the “thing(s)” I was grieving.  I tried to numb myself in various ways to stop thinking.  Stop feeling.  Stop the pain.  Though I tried, I could not run.  Thinking was inevitable.  Feeling was inevitable.  Breathing was a necessity. 
I groaned before the Lord many times.  “Lord, help me.  This hurts.  How will I sustain these losses?”  “Lord, please….PLEASE….do you hear me?  Are you there?  I am in pain.”  I groaned as I lived in the pain of grieving. 
So how have I survived my grieving?  Honestly, I really don’t know.  I suppose I can say that even though I groaned before the Lord questioning His love for me, I knew I was safe in His care.  Even though it was hard to breathe, think, feel, live, I knew He loved me and was not allowing me undue pain.  And soon, as time passed, I learned that my grief revealed His truth, His beauty, and His sovereignty.  Aside from fighting to hold on to the truth of God’s love for me, I surrounded myself with an army.  Of course I don’t mean a real army, but I do mean an army of support.  Godly friends, pastors, counselors, speaking truth to me as though it were my food, because while I was in my deepest places I could not read scripture on my own.  I needed them to be my strength and shield from the overwhelming darkness that had taken up residence in my soul. 
Then, over time I began to breathe again, and think again, and the pain felt less suffocating.  I hope you do not hear some kind of formula in all of this, because although time has passed, I still grieve.  Grieving is a journey.  At times, it still hurts to breathe, think, feel, and live.  Yet in all of this, no matter if I have an “easy” grieving day or a “hard” grieving day, God’s truth remains.  God’s goodness to me reigns.  He is my Father and I am His daughter.  These are the truths we find in scripture. 
For those of you in the midst of living in the pain of your grief, may I suggest you read two things?  One suggestion is to read the Psalms, a book in the Bible.  I would encourage you to devour them, as they are life giving to the hurting soul.  The second suggestion is a book called “A Grace Disguised:  How the Soul Grows through Loss,” by Jerry Sittser.  

Fiction, Hollywood, and Real Relationship

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

SPOILER ALERT:  for those who haven’t read the Harry Potter or Hunger Games series, there may be plot spoilers in the following paragraphs, though I will try hard not to reveal too much.

My wife and I were discussing some of our thoughts about how the books The Deathly Hallows and Mockingjay ended, and how they served to wrap up their respective series.  We were thoroughly disappointed in each and for similar reasons.  The core of our disappointment was the principle of “putting a bow on ugly”.

The Harry Potter series ended with an epilogue titled “19 years later”, that (we felt) too neatly and agreeably attempted to wrap up all the threads from the series.  The fact that Harry named a child after the person who most utterly despised him and treated him viciously even behind closed doors was just too much.  I can see coming to respect him, but one simply does not name a child after an abuser of this magnitude.  All the ugliness seemed to have inexplicably vanished.

The Hunger Games series tried to do the same thing, though the attempt at closure was somewhat better.  The author at least attempted to acknowledge that ugly existed in the post-story world, but it was still resolved too simplistically and without the flesh to make it believable for me.

Hollywood and fiction train us to expect that all the loose ends can be resolved, that resolution equals “happily ever after” or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof.  They train us to need things to work out that way.  This is most plainly true in the (despicable and utterly useless) genre known as “Romantic Comedy”.  I cannot say more without using profanity.

Think of the sense of disappointment or unease when you watch a movie in which resolution is not clean or neat. We recently watched the movie Moneyball, which does not conclude with a “Hollywood Ending”.  I can only say that the events depicted happened within the recent lifetimes of many, and as such could not be modified to fit the pattern described above.  I feel that if they were more ancient history they would likely have been changed into something completely victorious.

This is fine, and even necessary (to a degree) for celluloid.  The unfortunate side effect is that because reality is very much different, many people are left with a sense of disappointment and even despair when real life does not work that way.  The truth is that human beings are generally a broken, selfish lot that is capable of both great goodness and great evil, often within a single breath.

The fact is that intimacy, real relationship, and engaging responsibly with another human being is often like a wrestling match.  The very best relationship in the world experiences conflict and disagreement, hurt and offense, misunderstanding and tension on an ongoing basis.  The couple who tells you that “never a harsh word is spoken” is either whitewashing, outright lying, or they are not experiencing real, deep intimacy.

If you are going to really do deep, intimate relationship with another person, you’d better know how to fight.  I don’t mean knowing how to eviscerate your opponent in the shortest period of time.  I mean knowing how to hold in tension the following two truths: 1. This other person and I are on the same side,  and 2. There is pain and friction between us.

When I talk about knowing how to fight, I mean knowing how to understand and express my own feelings and thoughts in a way that does not accuse or attack the other, even when it is plainly and wholly their fault.  I mean learning how to uphold their honor and dignity while feeling the painfully powerful desire to rip their eyes out.  I mean knowing how to view conflict as a necessary part of doing relationship, and not as a threat to relationship.

It is often one of the hardest lessons to learn in relationship that resolution is not about coming to agreement, but rather it is about coming to a deeper understanding of the other person, and thereby learning how to craft a unique relationship between the two of you.  No part of that process is clean, neat, or simple.  It is ugly, and to expect or demand otherwise only leads to disappointment.  You can put a bow on it if you like, but that doesn’t make it easier to look at.  It takes patience, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love.  When you’ve come to the other side of it, it will still be ugly, but there is a beauty in what has been created by moving through it that will last a lifetime.

When Life is Too Heavy…

By: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC
The following excerpt is from one of my favorite books, The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. It is the true account of a Christian woman who was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during the Holocaust for hiding Jews. It is a beautifully told story about the light of hope and grace in the midst of terrible darkness, unspeakable horror, and despair.
Often times I would use the trip home to bring up things that were troubling me, since anything I asked at home was promptly answered by the aunts. Once, I must have been 10 or 11, I asked father about a poem we had read at school the winter before. One line had described “a young men whose face was not shadowed by sexsin.” I had been far too shy to ask the teacher what it meant, and mama had blushed scarlet when I consulted her. In those days just after the turn of the century sex was never discussed, even at home.  So the line had stuck in my head. “Sex,” I was pretty sure, meant whether you were a boy or a girl, and “sin” made Tante (Aunt) Jans very angry, but what the two together meant I could not imagine. And so, seated next to Father in the train compartment, I suddenly asked, “Father, what is sexsin?”
He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing.  At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case from the rack over our heads, and set it on the floor.
“Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?” he said. I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with the watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning.
“It’s too heavy,” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little daughter to carry such a load.  It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you.”
And I was satisfied.  More than satisfied, wonderfully at peace. There were answers to this and all my hard questions, for now I was content to leave them in my father’s keeping.
This memory from early in her life was one that she kept with her in the face of witnessing and experiencing horrors beyond imagination during her time in a concentration camp. After seeing something torturous, she had these thoughts: “It was father’s train case once again. Such cruelty was too much to grasp, too much to bear. Heavenly Father Carry it for me!”
We all experience suffering, pain, and trauma in life. Often the weight of the world can feel too heavy a burden to carry. As life unfolds around us and brings loss and suffering, we can become lost in a sea of “why?” questions. We feel alone. Abandoned. Confused. Lost. In these moments of despair, we need to trust what is true of our Heavenly Father over our feelings. He never leaves or forsakes us. He has unending love for us. He is sovereign over all our suffering and joy. He will always carry what is too heavy for us.

What is Your Story? A Self Exploration Activity

by: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC 

Oftentimes it seems that whatever may lie in the past, we prefer to keep there. It seems so much simpler or safer or smarter to just pack up our past in a box and put it on a shelf in the storage room of our heart. It’s in the past, so what does it matter? Many of us wrestle with this very question.

I like to think of each life as a story that is being lived out. Just as in the stories we enjoy in the pages of books, each of our lives is filled with highs, lows, joys, sorrows, disappointments, dashed dreams, dreams come true, pain, and love, just to name a few. In order to grasp the fullness of the main character’s story in a book, we have to begin at the beginning. Picking up a novel and starting at Chapter 32 is going to not only rob us of the story’s depth, but would likely make for a confusing storyline. There is much to be gleaned from the parts of our lives we have already lived, as every step has gotten us to where we are today.

Below is an activity that can be helpful in beginning to search back into our life’s story to recapture the valuable pieces available to us there. Consider spending some time revisiting the previously aired episodes of your life. Ask someone, whether a trusted friend, mentor, or counselor, to begin this journey with you.

Activity:

Pick a milestone to write about using the chart below or divide your life up appropriately. Start with sentence: “This was a time in my life when….” and let the writing flow.

Use this outline:
1. Get a clean sheet of paper and date it.
2. Select the milestone that you wish to write about, and write it at the top of the paper.
3. Write down the five questions:
   a. Where was I living at this time in my life?
   b. Whom was I living with at this time in my life?
   c. What was important to me at this time in my life?
   d. What was I afraid of at this time in my life?
   e. Who were my friends at this time in my life?
4. Reflect for a moment on the milestone and the questions.
5. Begin to write, starting with the phrase “This was a time in my life when…”

Major Milestones:
0-10
11-20
20-30
30-40
40-50
50-60
70-80

Thankfulness with a Twist

By: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC
“I mistake my happiness for blessing.” – Caedmon’s Call
I don’t want to write this blog today. Seeing as it was timely given the recent holiday, I had decided awhile ago that I would write about thankfulness. Reflecting upon this topic, I pondered how we tend to only give thankful attention to our joys and happiness. Of course, just like you, I very am thankful for those aspects of my life in which I delight and enjoy. However, when I expand my view of my life’s story and path, I can see from this perspective that I am also thankful for the pain, the sadness, the grief, the hardship, and the trials by which I came to be where I am and who I am. There is more to blessing, and more to thankfulness, than the absence of a negative, than merely happiness. I find Jars of Clay lyrics echoing within me as I contemplate the stumbling, the wounding, the mistakes, and the tears I would have never chosen:
“We knew it as a wrong turn
We couldn’t know the things we’d gain
When we reach the other border
We look out way down past the road we came from

We’re looking for redemption
It was hidden in the landscape
Of loss and love and fire and rain
Never would have come this way
Looking for redemption”
                                    -Redemption, Jars of Clay

While in the midst of the fire and rain, I only view my happiness, my joy, my pleasure, my plenty as blessing. I tend to miss the blessing in the landscape of loss and pain. The weight of sorrow rarely, if ever, moves me to thanksgiving as it threatens to crush me. When standing at two paths diverging, the road of suffering does not enchant me.
Expand. Hindsight. Perspective. Process. Reflection. These are necessary for a shift from pain to thankfulness. I am not feeling very thankful for my pain and sorrow today. I do not want to write this blog today, because I am currently feeling the pinching of brokenness. I am filled with the urge to flee, not reflect and give thanks. And I think that is normal. What I can do in the midst of this sorrow, is to remember how many of my blessings have been made up of happiness and pain. I can reflect on the evidence of God’s unending faithfulness in both the Bible and in my own life story. Though I may not be in a thankful place with this present pain, I can recall that once I am no longer in the midst of it, I will likely be grateful for the ways it has changed and grown me, the grace I experienced, and the truth that given the choice I would leave God’s plan for my life unchanged.