“Love cannot exist without pain.”
February 26, 2008
“Love cannot exist without pain.” With those five words, the Anchoress reminds us a profound truth.
In Lent: the searing lesson, she reminds of what makes us human, with innate capacities that are truly astounding.
Love brings the pain; it lets pain in. The key to all that makes us vulnerable. And alive.
Pain can exist without love, but not the reverse.
On the surface, the Anchoress post is religious in nature. In fact, her words transcend the confines of her professed and cherished faith and enter the realm of spiritual transcendency that reaches us all. She writes of the sublime beauty of our spiritual imperfections. She understands the dignity of our falling and failing and getting up again.
She identifies with the participants in marathon of life that do not finish first and will never wear the ivy crown of the Greek gods, basking in the adulation of their fellow man. That is after all the goal, right?
The Anchoress notes in a plaintive voice
But now I understand, a little, why some prefer not to believe, at all.
Her path, like the path most of us take is difficult. She runs not with ease, grace and beauty of the trained runner. The great runners are aware of every step they take in every minute, aware of the trail’s twists and turns. They are as sure footed as a gazelle.
The Anchoress does not run in that pack.
She reminds that she, like most of us, is like the athlete that has given all there is to give and struggles to reach inside to find more. She is like the spent runner, exhausted and delirious, always falling and struggling to stay upright, only vaguely aware in which direction is the finish line, but knowing she must reach that line. The runner knows there will be no yellow tape, crown of ivy or adoring crowds cheering her on. The runner knows that when the end of the race comes, he will be cheered on by a few lonely voices of loved ones or the few that understand the profundity in that struggle.
The Anchoress reminds us that at one time or another, get in over our heads. Some choose to choose to forfeit the game, afraid of getting hurt. Others wade in and face those challenges. Sometimes, we are like the boxer who needs a payady to feed his family. Sometimes we step into the ring and find within ourselves the heart to take a merciless beating so that our loved ones can eat.
God no more abandons us in our pain anymore than we abandon our loved ones in their pain and suffering.
Pain, fear and suffering are all a part of what it means to be a part of God’s creation.
First, we learn the easy lessons. To find God in nature, and beauty and music requires only minimal insight. As we progress through life, we learn to see God in the challenges and heartbreak that we all experience. That requires a more sophisticated set of skills. Finally, we learn to see God through loss and pain and suffering. That requires yet another set of skills- and that also requires the kind of humility learned from lessons of life.
In our times of pain, suffering and loss, God is not abandoning us. In fact, He is closer to us than ever, because pain and loss are the other side of the Creation coin. In the same way God oversaw Creation, He oversees loss.
We cannot claim to know God until we have experienced real fear, pain, loss and suffering. We cannot claim to be secure in our faith until the strength of that faith is tested and reaffirmed. We cannot claim to know God until we are comfortable in knowing that we are not all knowing.
We do not need to cry out to God when we are in pain or when we are suffering. God is already there, wanting us to grow into our fullest potential as Creation intended. In the same way that marriage, children and family expand our definitions and understanding of love, so too does pain, suffering and loss expand our definitions and understanding of life, meaning and purpose.
The runner who struggles and stumbles does not need the whole world to recognize his efforts. He seeks only the advice and counsel of others who have struggled and stumbled. He is grateful for the prayers of those few who are determined to stand by him and see him finish his race. He asks not to be carried to the finish line.
We also wrote
Believers know only too well the challenges faith presents. There are inner conflicts each believer must somehow come to terms with, and there are conflicts that originate from without. In each case and over time, those conflicts escalate.
Believers must deal with the inner peace that comes from the knowledge and awareness that God is always at our side. Also near the surface is the loneliness, despair and feeling of abandonment when God appears to be silent…
Even content of character is expressive of diversity. The Apostles were very different, in temperament and view. Some were great thinkers, others were very simple. Nevertheless, each was to preach the Gospel and each was to paint a different brush stroke on the canvas on what was to become Christianity.
The diversity of real faith is exemplified by the biblical examples the faithful turn to.
Joseph dreams, but never talks to God. He becomes an Egyptian dignitary but never forgets or abandons his heritage.
Esther, who saved her people, is known first as the queen and only second as a Jewess…
That there is plenty of religious diversity is no question. What unites the diverse individuals that religion celebrates, are the ideas and content of character.
It is the order that is derived from the chaos that attracts and hold people of faith so tightly.
The courage and inspiration to go on even the when the finish line is beyond reach, comes from within. The ability to endure suffering and pain comes from knowing our best efforts are ahead of us- and those best efforts are what is meant when we say we are ‘Created in God’s image.’
We can and will cross the finish line.
God treasures our spiritual achievements. He treasures our failures along the way even more, because in facing and overcoming our failures, we have shown that we are indeed worthy of the humanity He bestowed upon us. We are not meant to become perfect in our struggle and search for meaning and faith- we are meant to overcome the limitations, imperfections and obstacles along the way.
Relating to God is about relating to that most human side of ourselves.
And so it is. Read the Anchoress post.