And when I’m feeling particularly cynical, the scene oft replays wherein Westley, still thrashing about in his own, dares mock the grief of his beloved.
Life is pain, Highness, he chides.
It’s a bit of a recurring theme not in my dreams but in my waking these many weeks. A few months ago I paced my office, still a bit dopey from a Sunday afternoon nap. I’d felt the winds change long before Autumn had threatened to put out the summer sun. I saw a different glow emerging over the horizon, a change and a loss creeping in for which I was ill prepared and for which I had not asked.
My response to the anticipated ache had none of my usual careful measurement and analysis. Before I could fully think through the implications, I found myself facedown remembering one thing, one thing only:
Who are the only ones who receive comfort? I asked myself, the same question I’d asked over and over of others. And always the good student, I repeated back the required answer, Only those that mourn.
It remains a matter of some debate whether my next words emerged from the most or least lucid moment I’ve experienced in my half-lived life to date. But I said it, and at least in the stillness of that moment meant it, though I immediately scrambled about looking for the backspace key that doesn’t exist for this sort of thing.
Do the thing You’re doing, Father. It’s not like I can stop You.
But then also do this: Let me feel the pain in its fullness.
I’ll need Your true comfort. No measure of self-medication will do.
I still blame the cobwebs of daytime sleep. No epidural block?
He’s been outrageously faithful, I can tell you. To the experience of pain as well as to His comfort.
It came at me yesterday while I led our adult study. I scratched a clumsy reproduction of Paul Miller’s diagram on the white board, hacking out red scribbles in the open chasm between lines representing our hope and our reality. That land mass between the two, Miller says, is the desert, and it’s where we live. And I so wanted to add an extra S in that dry, desolate word and change it out for something that would delight my mouth so much more than a spoonful of hot sand.
God customizes deserts for each of us, Miller would say, reflecting on the hand-crafted desert experiences of Joseph, of Moses, of David, even of Jesus. God seems to have a preference for working in the desert heat.
The still, dry air of the desert brings the sense of helplessness that is so crucial to the spirit of prayer. You come face to face with your inability to live, to have joy, to do anything of lasting worth. . . . The desert is God’s best hope for the creation of an authentic self. (Paul Miller, A Praying Life, pp. 184-185)
At the same time, we seem to favor the cool draft of air conditioning and the condensation dripping off a glass of ice cold lemonade. Andrew Byers suggests that we seek the relief of a snow cone for not only our personal pain and disappointment but for the pain of all creation as well.
The groaning of creation is so raucous and unsettling that most of us would prefer to clasp our hands over our ears or crank up the volume on our iPod just a few more clicks. And those of us who can afford an iPod to crank up probably live in environments that have been carefully designed to squelch out the noise of creation’s groaning. (Andrew Byers, Faith Without Illusions, p. 38)
Perhaps Westley was right.
There is pain aplenty to go around.
Despair comes easily enough when we consider how many times we’ve staggered full speed toward the glassy surface we see on the glaring sand, just up over that next dune, only to watch the cool spring dry up and vanish, leaving us more parched and blistered than before, just for having hoped.
The desert seems far away when, with the Frio River as a backdrop, Jeffrey Overstreet lifts Frederick Buechner’s words off the page, suggesting that rather than burying our pain in the back yard of our souls like the unfaithful servant, we instead steward it well, bringing a substantial return on the Master’s investment.
Stewardship of pain. What does that mean? I have thought a lot about it. I think it means, before anything else, to keep in touch with your pain, to keep in touch with the sad times, with the hard times of your past for many reasons. I think it is often those times when we were most alive, when we were somehow closest to being most vitally human beings.
Keep in touch with it because it is at those moments of pain where you are most open to the pain of other people — most open to your own deep places. Keep in touch with those sad times because it is then that you are most aware of your own powerlessness, crushed in a way by what is happening to you, but also most aware of God’s power to pull you through it, to be with you in it. Keeping in touch with your pain, I think, means also to be true to who in your depths you have it in you to be — depths of pain and also in a way depths of joy, because they both come from the same place. (Frederick Buechner, The Stewardship of Pain)
The stewardship of pain.
Indeed. What does it mean?
Photos: Top, autumn leaves in my front yard Bottom: worship space overlooking the Frio River at Laity Lodge, by Diana Trautwein. Used with permission. Read Buechner's full message here. Linking with Michelle today.
This entry was posted on 2011/10/10 by LW Lindquist. It was filed under A Praying Life, Faith and was tagged with A Praying Life, Frederick Buechner, Hear It - Use It, Laity Lodge, Michelle DeRusha, pain.