Saturday, December 7, 2013

Grace Helps Us Confront Pain, Not Ignore It

A couple of decades ago when I was attending a Christian Women's
Conference, a Jewish holocaust survivor spoke about facing life's pains. During WWII, the Nazis had kept her alive to entertain them because she was a great dancer. She watched her sister walk into the gas chambers. Both of her parents were gassed. Then she explained that it was only after the holocaust that the momentous task of facing what had happened to her began. It was then, a different and more arduous hell lay ahead. Dealing with it. She told us that no matter what you have been through it is harder to face your life than live it. 

Because of her experience, she warned us of the dangers of what she was witnessing in America. She said she was amazed at what we will do to  avoid the painful task of self-examination. Americans take legal (anti-depressants) and illegal drugs, alcohol, glut themselves with entertainment or distraction, all in an effort to keep from thinking seriously about our lives. 

She told us not to run from or ignore pain, regrets and the bad choices of our lives but to look at them and deal with them constructively. Let our life experience bring us wisdom instead of always trying to be happy and having fun. 

Afterward her speech, I was very vocal in protesting what I thought was a very anti-gospel, pagan, Socratic, "an unexamined life is not worth living" talk. I asked those who put the conference together, "Why ask a Jewish woman to speak to us? She obviously didn't understand grace and the importance of keeping our eyes upon Christ--not ourselves in a self-examination. We needed to hear that Christ will wipe away our tears and that we need to be filled with joy because our sins are washed away and cast into the depths of the sea never to be thought of again by us or anyone else!  We don't need to face it, Christ faced it for us. Christ takes away our pain, right?"

As I grew in Christ, I realized I was wrong and the Jewish woman was correct. Scripture doesn't say that God takes away the effects of sin--after all, we still die as punishment for Adam's sin. Although Jesus took away the eternal penalty of our sins, we still suffer for them here, now. And like the holocaust survivor, we not only suffer for our sins, but we suffer for the sins others do to us, the sins we personally were not responsible for.

There is some universal, unspoken understanding among Christians that we are not to think about nor feel our sins or deep wounds. We should always be feeling happy.

I know a lot of Christians who spend an enormous amount of time in religious escapism. They find a church whose main focus is on feeling good, with upbeat, loud and energetic praise songs with a captivating minister, where everyone is staying positive, with nary a word about the tragedy of sin. So, when the worship is over and they have to go home or to work and face a sinful world and a sinful them, the spiritual high leaves. 

We really do need to examine our life. That is not self-centered.  

God's grace pours out upon us not so that we can ignore pain in our life, but to give us the courage and strength to face it. For when we soberly, in the quiet of the morning or evening kneeling to God, mentally walk straight into the scary, dark and painful places in our hearts, we can then begin the healing process--both in repentance to God and forgiveness of ourselves and others. It is in these fires of self-examination that we are purged and healed from our deepest wounds.
Don't think if you have never really sat and looked at your life that it will be easy. You have to get past all the years of white noise.

Then when we finally start looking at our lives, we tend to excuse behavior or ignore it. It takes practice and determination to go through our cluttered mental attic. But most of all, it takes courage because you will desire to flee from pain. Stick with it. Find the source of your pain: cowardice, sexual immorality, covetousness, feeling anger towards some childhood injustice or wrong,  feeling loneliness, abandonment, a distrust of everyone that makes you a control freak. Perhaps you have drifted from God and you feel guilt, not at anything big, but the knowledge that He is no longer first in your life.

Then when you think you have found what has been keeping the volume of white noise so loud in your brain, give it to God through prayer. If you need to: repent. Then ask for the grace to forgive and heal. 

One great way of healing is to stop sinning! So do whatever it takes to stop doing whatever it is that is breaking your relationship with God. Above all else, pray and if you feel you need to, fast and find a good supportive church with faithful Catholics in attendance. Perhaps even start going to daily mass. 

Some of the pain in our lives is because of sin--something we did, are doing or some sin that someone did or is doing to us. We have to face it.

We want the process of healing and holiness to be easy. It is not. But it is the only path to true joy. And joy is there, along with peace. It's worth it. 

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