In The Presence of Pain
Mary is a beautiful young woman. They are trying to figure out if Mary is a case of Multiple Personality Disorder or if she is demon-possessed.
One moment she is soft-spoken, polite and sweet, the next she is
vicious, scheming, scary.
The first time I met Mary she was shy and kept her distance. The second time she glared at me for long periods, her eyes like icy daggers. The third time our paths crossed she approached me with kind words of thanks.
Mary grew up within a legalistic, abusive cult wherein they called themselves ‘Christians.’ For the children, starvation, being made to stand at attention for 12-hour stretches without being allowed to use a toilet, and other sadistic forms of abuse were the favored methods of ‘discipline.’
Many times this sort of ‘discipline’ was brought down upon the head of a child who had failed to correctly recite a long passage of scripture from memory.
The cult finally came to an end when a very young child died from such treatment. Thankfully the authorities stepped in, but not before Mary, and many others like her, were deeply scarred.
Tonight I’m at a residential facility for men who are in early recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. Bible Study has just ended. The closing prayer has just been prayed. People are milling around, forming up in little knots of conversation here and there.
Me, I am one of the New Guys in the group. One of those New Guys who shows up to speak and people really don’t hear what you are saying because you’re new and everyone is trying to figure out if you are worth listening to in the first place.
I wander over to the little group that is closest to me. After a few minutes of light conversation two of the men, uncomfortable with me, take their leave. I am left alone with a man about my age who is wanting to take his leave as well. Before he can think of a reason to excuse himself, I begin asking questions.
Probing for common ground upon which we can safely stand and converse.
Personal geographical history? Nope.
As we talk it becomes evident to me that Steven is hurting. You can see the pain in his eyes. At first he is leery of me. Distant. I can tell that he doesn’t really want to engage. His eyes ask; “Who are you, anyway?.” “Why are you really here?” “Are you a safe person?”
We talk a few minutes about safe-subject-sports. I make reference to a very obscure sports fact that impresses Steven. Steven escalates the conversation to a potentially dangerous subject (race). After a few more minutes of conversation amid the mine field of racial issues I pass some sort of ‘safe-person’ test.Steven extends the invitation to show me where he lives: his pictures; his books; his big-screen TV. In the safety of this setting Steven opens the door to his heart just a crack and lets me see a little bit of his pain. Not much. A quick glance of a heart, shrunken back, raw, quivering with
But then someone is looking for me. “Your ride is ready to go.”
“It was good to meet you.”
“I’ll be praying for you.”
Walking away I am not sure what to think. Not even really sure what it is that I am feeling.
God, what . . .
Not About Me
It is not about me. No, most definitely it is not about me. At my best I am merely the conduit sufficient to the task of allowing God’s love to flow through me to those who suffer and thirst for hope, healing, and wholeness.”
You may be like me. You may feel uncomfortable when you come in contact with someone who’s pain exceeds your ability to comprehend it. When the help that someone needs is far beyond what you or I are able to give.I have friends who seem to know the right things to do and say when they are with people who are hurting: words of meaning and comfort flow from their lips when in the presence of someone who has just lost a loved one; they seem to instinctively know just what to do when working with someone whose life lay in ruins all about them.
Me, when I am in the presence of someone who is in great pain I struggle for words, any words at all. I mumble. Kick the dirt. I always seem to have to fight back a strong urge to flee in the face of great pain and brokenness.
I am ashamed to say that I tend to shy away from people who’s lives are defined by pain.
And yet, if I am to follow the example set by Christ I should be seeking out the company of the very people who I am so uncomfortable being around.
As Henri Nouwen says; “Jesus shows a distinct preference for those who are marginal in society – the poor, the sick, and the sinners.”
All too often we Christians live in an all too comfortable world where we are all too oblivious to the pain and suffering all around us. Oh so un-Christ-like.
So, I force myself. I grit my teeth and I remind myself; “It’s not about me.” I focus on interacting with the person in a way that will build up that image of God in that person. Small talk. Listening. Being there. Living the small meaningful moments of like. Loving.
That’s it. It is not about me. It is about Christ-like love.That mysterious Christ-like love that can flow through mere human beings, like you and I, to reach out and penetrate the pain and hurts of others: Powerful love that the world does not understand but that transforms and heals those that the world has abused.
It is not about me. No, most definitely it is not about me. At my best I am merely the conduit sufficient to the task of allowing God’s love to flow through me to those who suffer and thirst for hope, healing, and wholeness.
When I choose to be God’s conduit, good things happen. When I choose to let God work through me, people really don’t see very much of me. That is as it should be. For, when God works through me, people see the Lord. And when people truly see the Lord, truly amazing things happen.
Scripture introduces Mary Magdalene as the demon-possessed woman who Jesus had healed. She becomes one of His followers, one of a band of people that accompany Jesus throughout His ministry.
The last we see of Mary is towards the end of the Gospel of John. It is after Christ has been killed. His body has been lain in a tomb. Mary is at the tomb, weeping.
First, a couple of angels appear to Mary. Then, Jesus himself appears to Mary, offering her words of comfort and encouragement.
Mary than went (I imagine her running, breathless) to the disciples;
“I have seen the Lord!”
I love the story of Mary Magdalene. The true story of Cinderella. A story of transformation. Rags to riches. From sorrow to joy to sorrow to joy. A demon-possessed mad woman transformed into a messenger of the King. From a life of pain and helplessness to life-eternal in the presence of the one who conquered sin and death.
‘I have seen the Lord!”
Indeed, Mary. Indeed you have.
By Cash Lowe
Organizational Chaplain, Shepherd’s House Ministries