the Empathy List #82: What is pain for?
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Hello friend, Liz here.
I have a few more deconstruction stories in the queue for you all—I’ve chatted with J.S. Park about growing up as the son of Korean immigrants and his work as a hospital chaplain (by the way, he’s one of the kindest men I’ve ever met), with Stephanie Cochrane of the Paradox Paper about her brother’s suicide and how the church couldn’t handle her grief, and with Jenai Auman about her experience with Acts 29 church abuse.
But I gotta admit that I’ve been living life in the center of a tornado for the past month.
I’m still spinning from losing a book contract (not ready to write more publicly yet); meanwhile, my husband and I both have started/are starting new jobs. Also have you heard that it’s Lent, the most depressing of all church seasons? ;-)
For big feelers like me, life can sometimes feel like TOO MUCH.
In these moments, I find myself wondering, what is pain for, exactly?
What is its purpose and flavor and color, what does its action do within our bodies and souls, and is it worth it?
This is where I put on my doula hat and tell you that pain in childbirth is useful.
Hear me out… I know childbirth isn’t top of minds for most of us, but it’s a helpful analogy.
So: no, pain during labor is never pleasant, not for a single second, and it’s usually traumatic—though, thankfully, a mother’s ability to remember it afterward is altered by a complex blend of hormones that flood our brains and systems after the birth (thanks, oxytocin!).
(BTW here is where I would tell you the particulars of what that pain actually feels like, according to my two personal experiences of childbearing, but I will let you off the hook this time. You’re welcome. ;-))
Even so, that childbirthing pain plays a necessary role.
Pain teaches the laboring woman exactly where and how to move her own body in order to help her baby descend. In a cooperative effort, the mother and baby’s movements usher the child into the wide world for its birth day.
In our relationships, pain communicates as well. Emotional pain communicates toxicity as clearly as a pain in our abdomen communicates food poisoning to us.
Often, my experiences in Christian spaces have encouraged me to undervalue the role of this emotional pain. It’s a threat, rather than an invitation toward health and wholeness in Christ.
Yet fundamental to our understanding of Christ is his own embrace and attentiveness to pain. Jesus accepts both physical and psychological torment, in himself and in others, and submits that pain to the Father’s ultimate purpose.
The pain is not the point, and yet it is useful; it serves a bigger purpose.
Christ does not shy away from your pain, so neither should you or I.
The gift of Lent is its eyes-wide approach to the pain of our existence in a world that groans—like a woman in the middle of birthing a ten-pound infant. Like the anguish of a family grieving a lost member. Like the ripping apart of a congregation due to church split and betrayal. Like a wildfire tearing through Colorado’s mountainscape.
We mourn for the pain of now even as we hope for what’s to come.
What could be more Christlike than to embrace pain as our teacher and means of salvation?
Thanks for reading. Warmly, Liz Charlotte Grant
By the way… I WANT TO HEAR YOUR STORIES of deconstruction!
If you have a deconstruction/reconstruction story, I’d be grateful to hear from you! (REPLY to this email or via my DMs @LizCharlotteGrant)
This is how it feels to have your novel stolen by phishing… in case us writers needed something ELSE to be afraid of.
“Everyone in publishing knew about it. No one knew who the scammer was, or what this person’s motives were. No ransoms had been demanded, and no piracy seemed to be afoot. Many, though by no means all, of the manuscripts in question were, oddly, like mine, first books from unknown authors. Why go to the trouble of stealing an unfinished début by a writer no one has heard of?”
“Eternity: How to Make it Work for You,” A poem by Maryanne Hannan
I’m chasing Now.
Couple times, I almost had it nailed
But who could blame me
for peeking around the corner —
Tomorrow was coming up quick.
They say once you “get” it,
you got it. Now moves right
along with you. Something bad
happens, all you do
is remember you got it. And
it has you. Up and down,
you go, a rollicking romp,
through time or timelessness—
whatever you want to call
the cosmic elevator
or travellator people-moving
on which you stand still
and move through. To the end.
The senate voted to stop the changing of the clocks. On daylight savings time: where it came from, and how we’re trying to get rid of it.
Christianity Today’s former Editor-in-Chief, Mark Galli, has been credibly accused of inappropriate behavior toward his female employees during his tenure at CT. (Am I a terrible person if my first thought is not surprise, shock or anger but instead, Queen’s, “Another one bites the dust…?”)
Go watch Pixar’s newest delight, “Turning Red,” this instant on Disney+ —it’s really that good, whether you’re 13 or 45, you’ll enjoy it, promise. And pay no attention to the VERY LOUD critics who have made the topic of girls going through puberty off-limits and who have also decided that having an Asian family as protagonists makes a movie not universal somehow. Sigh.
And just for fun…
“Is this heaven? Or is it just a …white woman’s Instagram?”
—My husband just rewatched Bo Burnham’s hilarious/depressing comedy special from pandemic-land, and this song tickled me. ;-)