Saturday, March 16, 2019

How All Believers Go PRO With Emotional Pain: Two Ways are Really Bad, One is Really Good

Emotional pain is inevitable… We have all been hurt at some point in our lives and we will all likely be hurt again. Jesus told us, “in this world you will have trouble…” So, how do we deal with this pain?

In 5th grade I changed schools, it was a traumatic experience. I had moved from a small setting designed for kids who had learning differences... mine happened to be dyslexia and the ADHD that sometimes goes with it. The new school had large classes that rotated... one of my teachers didn't even know my name. There happened to be an extra-large, almost full grown young man who was a student in my fifth grade class. I had never heard the kind of language that came out of his mouth and I had never experienced a "swirly" or been stuffed into a locker, or had a super-sonic wedgie until I met extra large, redheaded Raymond. I was undersized for 5th grade, so as I saw it, my options were few... As I look back on the experience, I can see where some good coaching on processing emotional pain could have been beneficial for both of us. I recognized that the world he grew up in probably had few tools to cope with life other than physical strength, harsh language, and whatever strong arm tactics would ensure survival of the fittest. I also recognized that my life coping tool box had little more than silent, numbing and hiding behaviors that included eating a half a loaf of cinnamon toast and going to bed all afternoon everyday, so I could dull the pain. If my grown self could have gone back to that towheaded, wobbly kneed, inwardly angered boy, I would have tried to give him some skills in handling the pain inflicted by my red-headed Goliath from elementary school. I would probably go back and try to give Raymond some coping skills for his tool box that would be more beneficial for him in the long run too. I would tell boy-me to pray for Raymond, talk about my emotional pain with a friend or my parents instead of eating my pain with lots of butter, cinnamon sugar and white flour bread and sleeping through my pre-teen life. I would have engaged boy-me in sports or karate or a hobby that would develop my own discipline. I would also tell Raymond it's not okay to put my head in the toilet. And as an adult, I would tell boy-Raymond that God really loves him and there are people who really care about him and there are ways to process the pain from his home and surroundings with words and prayer. I would ask him to express his frustrations and anger in more verbally productive ways rather than spewing expletives at anyone around him. I would involve him in a sport that would allow him to use his physical prowess in more rewarding, less destructive ways.

Using this and other personal life experiences and doing some research and bible study there seem to be three basic ways we deal with our pain. We can remember them with the word PRO. We all go PRO with pain, because sometimes life just hurts and sometimes people hurt each other … intentionally or not. There are two ways we handle our pain and they are bad for us because they are bad for our relationships and we are designed as relational beings. When we PROject our pain on others (like boy-Raymond) and/or we attempt to PROtect ourselves from ever being hurt again (like boy-me) we harm our relationships. There is however a relationally healthy way of handling our pain… we can PROcess it. Jerrod Justice tells us, “Our pain is either transmitted or transformed.”

When we PROject our pain, we hurt other people. We have become quite adept at the ways we can do it. We can gossip, berate, or belittle others.  It can be someone who hurt us, as we exact revenge, or it could just be someone around us, unrelated to the hurt, who happens to be convenient. We can intentionally ignore, exclude or abandon people.  We can physically harm them (like stuffing them in a locker).  We humans can be quite evil and creative when we project our pain on others.  Somehow we think it will make us feel better about ourselves, but that is never the case for long. We often get caught in a vicious cycle of harm when we project our pain on others. Projecting our pain, makes us the worst version of ourselves.

When we PROtect ourselves from pain, we hide from other people. We try any way we can to just escape the pain. We just want it to stop. We do need to protect ourselves from further harm, but there are some really unhealthy ways to do it which diminish who we are. We can numb ourselves with food (like loaves of cinnamon toast and butter), drugs, other chemicals, alcohol and unhealthy relationships...   We can even convince ourselves that excessive exercise, religion, work, or sleep is good for us ... you can fill in the blank here with something else that is otherwise considered healthy or beneficial, but is destructive in excess.  Or we can hide behind a persona never showing who we really are for fear we will be hurt again.  When we hide our true self, we have cheated the world out of experiencing the very relationships to which we are meant to bring life. We bring much less of who we are to our relationships when we are numbing, masking, or hiding from others so we won’t hurt anymore.

PROcessing our pain is the best option. It allows us to help other people instead of hiding from them or hurting them. Processing preserves relationships and helps us move forward after painful encounters. We need to first process our pain with the God who sees us and cares about us by praying and seeking some comfort from His Word and the Holy Spirit. But we also need to process our pain with other people we trust.  If the pain is inflicted by people rather than something else, we may need to talk through the issue with them. According to Brene’ Brown in Rising Strong, we should generously assume the other person was doing the best they could at the time of the hurtful encounter. We will also need to set clear boundaries with these people and let them know what is "not okay." (Raymond was probably doing the best he could to survive in his 5th grade world with the tools he had been given by those in his local setting.)

We don’t choose to process our pain just because it is the best of our choices, we do it because it is who we are becoming as we follow Christ. Marcus Warner and Jim Wilder tell us in RARE Leadership, just because we have been given good rational choices, doesn’t mean we will choose to do them. Our actions are based on our identity ... who we really are, not on whether we think something is a good idea or not.(My boy-self identified as the undersized wimp who had no one to help and no choices but to self-medicate. Boy Raymond identified as the bully, who hurt others before they could hurt him.) As we identify with Jesus we connect with Him and act like Him and we learn how to do it from those who follow Him well. We can respond to pain in a healthy way and process it like Jesus did. He was hurt but it was His identity to love people no matter what. Jesus followers do this too. The apostle Paul reminded the early church who they were in Christ and he told them how those who belong to Him act and live. We help others, we do good and not evil and we don’t numb ourselves… (even when we are hurting.)

1 Thessalonians 5:5-11 (CEV)
5  You belong to the light and live in the day. We don't live in the night or belong to the dark. 6  Others may sleep, but we should stay awake and be alert. 7  People sleep during the night, and some even get drunk. 8  But we belong to the day. So we must stay sober and let our faith and love be like a suit of armor. Our firm hope that we will be saved is our helmet. 9  God doesn't intend to punish us, but wants us to be saved by our Lord Jesus Christ. 10  Christ died for us, so that we could live with him, whether we are alive or dead when he comes. 11  That's why you must encourage and help each other, just as you are already doing.

Don’t PROject your emotional pain and hurt others or PROtect only yourself and hide from others, but PROcess your pain, stay relational and help others... because it's who were are... people who love others well!