Pain is intensified when you are surrounded by a time of joy. Christmas can be such a time. Is there any way on earth you could know the pleasure of Christmas if you are in agony?
My sister died just two months ago. Some might think she was “only a sibling,” others might think the grief at her loss should be past, and I am grateful for some folks who know how very close she and I were, how painful her loss is. Some of you are feeling similar pain in a time of joy, and so I wanted to share a condensed excerpt from my book, Climbing Home: From Valleys of Despair to Mountains of Hope*, and write this blog as a word of empathetic hope.
“Your life is, at times, painful. Of course, I have not met most of you. But, then, I have met you. I have met you in church members, students, counseling clients, therapists I have supervised, family, and friends. I have heard your pain, have shared your struggles, and have seen your lives rise from the ashes of your fiery afflictions.”
“Some of you have known the pain of loss, others the pain of never finding. Some have known the excruciating pain of losing a child; others have known the very different but very difficult pain of infertility. Some of you have known the pain of job loss; you may also have known the prolonged agony of looking for but not finding a job. Some of you have courageously kept on and on at a job you don’t like, detest even, but you’ve kept on working to provide for those you love. Some of you have known the pain of addiction, others have suffered patiently with boredom.”
“You have taught me about pain. You have asked your question of pain in my counseling office, in church foyers, in hospitals, in funeral homes, on front porches as I visited, and after class as we talked over a lesson then later addressed your real question. You have asked, ‘How can I endure? How can I possibly know the pleasure of Christmas when I know such pain in this time of joy?' And as I have been privileged to listen to how you and God answered your own question, you have taught me.”
“You have taught me that, in Christ, pain is not so much a problem as it is the constricting of the womb of God out of which we are born into newness of life.”
Can you imagine Mary’s labor after a long journey of escape from government on the back of a donkey? Labor in a horse stall with no midwife, no doctor, no anesthesia!
Can you imagine the birth and childhood trauma of Jesus’ developing awareness of the death for which he was destined? A death of the prolonged agony of bullying by the equivalent of barbed wire whip, beating out bloody teeth, stripped, shamed, slandered, slaughtered in ways that would be called animal cruelty if done to a hog or cow.
Can you imagine the agony of God watching Mary's isolated labor, seeing his son thus born to be done to death in that way? Yet the labor, the trauma, the agony of God in the babe in a manger and the man on a cross are—these are the birth pangs of God bringing life to you, life that you can know even in your pain.
For “…where meek souls do receive him still, the dear Christ enters in;” and there, deep within your pain at this time of joy, new life can be born as God comes to us, abides with us loving us into life, loving us even into joy in a time of pain.
*You can read more about my book, Climbing Home: From Valleys of Despair to Mountains of Hope, including ordering information on the book, on the book page of this website.