At an event I was at over the weekend a man spoke of losing his 13 year old daughter to a brain tumour. He was, he said, still in a “world of pain”. He spoke of the realisation that he could continue to try and cling to the old narratives and story about their family, or he could choose to let the sun set on what had already past and begin to “travel east”, facing the pain and the darkness, turning away from the sun and journeying on through with the hope of meeting the sun once again somewhere down the road.
This sort of grief is of its own magnitude. At the same time, his new story contains feelings we can all recognise. The stinging feelings of loss, disappointment and pain are common company to us all.
I wonder what your attitude to the pain in your life is, and whether you know what it is to ‘travel east’. While the pain we each face varies, it is an inevitability that we will face it.
Part of this inevitability derives from the pain of problem-solving: in many ways, life is a series of problems to navigate, and every problem to navigate involves pain. At every turning we make decisions to answer the demands presented by problems, and every decision we make is an expending of our energy. Managing our time, choosing how we show up for others, where we allocate our attention, all involve costs. Where we find inner resistance towards these things, we really find in ourselves a form of pain avoidance.
Problem-solving is hard and unrelenting. Some people decide that they don’t want the demands of problem solving, so they constrict their life to a manageable size – limiting their openness and their investment in the world around them.
We may think that we are not one of those people, but we are. For starters, very few of us are truly willing to expend our energy towards those we love by actually listening attentively and not just passively.
In fact ultimately, we all shape our lives around our capacity to suffer the pain of problem-solving. There are dreams that we have laid aside because we have deemed them impossible, when what we really mean is that we are unwilling to solve the problems required to realise them. And there are hopes we have given up on because we have deemed them foolish, but what we really mean is that we can no longer take the pain of investing in them without seeing a return.
Our pain thresholds are limiting factors.
I’ve heard it said that a person’s greatness is determined by their capacity for suffering. Read at face value, and I rather fear that this glorifies suffering to too great an extent.
And yet, as I’ve thought on this, I can see clearly its edge of truth. Discipline is the staying power you need for the pain of problem-solving, and love is the strength and willingness you need to use it: pain is the litmus test for both. Surely love is what makes a person great.
The more lovingly we live, the more risks we take, the more exertion we extend, the more pain we endure. Love any living thing and it will die. Life and growth mean pain and death. But, when not gratuitous, the converse is also true: wise handling of pain and death can mean life and growth.
Our love will set us free.
As I have been thinking this through, I have realised that there are sources of pain that I have failed to acknowledged, though I am watching the sun set and am conscious of a call to travel east into the darkness. We must all face the pain of the problems before us, accept responsibility for taking the first steps down the road and be ready to accommodate the truth we encounter on the journey.
Jesus is the suffering King. In times we travel East we walk a path already traversed.