A year of firsts has come and gone. Mother’s Day. Then the first birthday. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s came next. February brought the first anniversary of when we were told Mom had stage IV gall bladder cancer. April 28th the first anniversary of her going to see Jesus.
One year of life without my mother, my dearest friend, my cheerleader, my confidante.
The pain, though not as sharp as at the beginning of this journey, still runs deep. An undercurrent to everything I do. Mom visits me in my dreams, happy, whole, and smiling. Always smiling. I cry through worship nearly every Sunday. I fight back tears when I smell her perfume in a crowd. The sorrow is now part of me, shaping my thoughts and emotions as I navigate through life with a giant hole in my existence.
In the midst of my heart pain, I’ve been dealing with physical pain as well. A few months ago I dislocated my shoulder in my sleep. It took a while to diagnose the problem. During that time my muscles tightened around my shoulder, protecting it from further injury. And though the joint is now where it should be, my muscles are still tight and unyielding, reducing my arm’s usefulness. In order to get back to full range of motion, I have to work on breaking up the scar tissue that has developed and stretching out the muscles. The process is painful, but it’s the only way I’ll have true healing. The spiritual implications from both experiences of grief have been evident throughout.
A Biblical Response to Emotional and Physical Pain
Because we are tripartite beings, (body, soul, and spirit) physical suffering and emotional suffering can both impact our spiritual lives. Withdrawing protects ourselves from potential sources of additional pain. Lashing out at others for the slightest grievance becomes common, using our pain as an excuse. We can act defensively and self-protect, causing increasing harm to ourselves in the process, or we can do the hard work of healing, turning to our Great Physician for guidance and help to face the hurt.
1 Peter 5 speaks to our suffering in a powerful way. Peter reminds us that Christ understands our suffering. In suffering He became our Good Shepherd. We are to follow His example by shepherding those in our care with love, gentleness, and above all, humility.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him because he cares for you. – 1 Peter 5:6-7
Humility may seem like an odd response. You may be thinking that pain is the issue, not pride. But what I believe Peter is saying is pain, or suffering, is a catalyst. It is done to you or happens within you. Our response to pain can either be pride or humility. We can turn our focus inward, causing caustic attitudes and further damage to ourselves and our relationships, or we can submit ourselves to what God is doing in our lives. The proper response, according to Peter, is casting our concerns and anxiety on Christ’s shoulders, freeing us up to love those we encounter daily rather than withdrawing from them.
Working out our spiritual scar tissue is a difficult task. One God never intended us to endure alone. This is why He sent Jesus to take on the pain of this world at Calvary. Every minute of every day we have to choose to give our pain and concerns over to Him. Our suffering never truly goes away this side of Heaven. It’s part of this fallen world. Part of us. But it doesn’t have to limit us.
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. – John 16:33
We will always have scars, but we don’t have to be bound up with scar tissue or walk through life with open, festering wounds. Humility brings healing. Humble yourself to God and others. Seek His face through your tears. Let Him help you carry your load, so you, in turn, can help others.