Burying the Pain

8 Jan

Most of us are quite familiar with the Parable of the Talents – the men who are each given money to invest.

For those of us who grew up in Sunday School, we know a moral: each of us has been given gifts and talents and we need to use them and invest them rather than hiding them.  Don’t waste your life in fear of displeasing God, because that would displease him the most.

For those of us who went to business school, we know another moral: don’t hide your money under your mattress or bury it in a hole.  At the very least, invest it in something safe because of the principal of compound interest.

So I found it interesting to reread the parable through the eyes of Frederick Buechner who takes a different approach with his interpretation.  An approach that I’ve been grappling with a lot these first few weeks of 2014.

“Bad times happen, good times happen; life itself happens and happens to all of us in different ways and with different mixtures of good and bad, pain and pleasure, luck and unluck. As I read it, that is what the parable is essentially about, and the question the parable poses is, what do we do with these mixed lives we are given, these hands we are so unequally dealt by God, if we believe in God, or by circumstance or by our genes?”

Buried pain in particular and all the other things we tend to bury along with pain, including joy, which tends to get buried too when we start burying things…instead of burying it, to live fully with the faith that one way or another it will work out.”

The next part makes perfect sense for those of us who now live in a world of Social Media.

The trading of joy comes naturally, because it is of the nature of joy to proclaim and share itself. Joy cannot contain itself, as we say. And so it should properly be with pain as well…We are never more alive to life than when it hurts – never more aware both of our own powerlessness to save ourselves and of at least the possibility of a power beyond ourselves to save us and heal us if we can only open ourselves to it. We are never more aware of our need for each other, never more in reach of each other, if we can only bring ourselves to reach out and let ourselves be reached…We are never more in touch with life than when life is painful, never more in touch with hope than we are then.”

I constantly remind myself to share in other people’s joy. Even if I never have a chance to share in their pain. Because they can’t share it or aren’t brave enough to share it or are too fearful of people not respecting it and just allowing it to be rather than offering advice or shallow words.

I like the thought of trading joy.  Of offering mine to you and taking yours in return. Of delighting in joy as it is – joy – without becoming consumed with the WHO and the WHY THEM, NOT ME and the HOW COME of the joy. Because all of those thoughts tarnish the joy. Even if the person sharing their joy can’t tell, you know deep down that it has lost its shine.

Being a good steward of your pain…involves taking the risk of being open, of reaching out, of keeping in touch with the pain as well as the joy of what happens, because at no time more than at a painful time do we live out of the depths of who we are instead of our of the shallows. There is no guarantee that we will find a pearl in the depths, that our pain will have a happy end, or even any end at all, but at least we stand a chance of finding in those depths who we most deeply and humanly are and who others are. At least we stand a chance of finding that we needn’t live alone in our pain.”

I realize this is heady stuff.  Especially when we are recovering from the holidays (how can something be so simultaneously fun and exhausting?) and planning for our next year and trying to get through the day without frostbite?

But I feel convicted this year to not just continue to Choose Joy.  But to also Choose To Not Bury My Pain.  The truth that one learns as one becomes an adult (and maybe the precise process that forms a person into an adult) is that pain is inevitable.

Since I cannot avoid pain, maybe the next best thing is to accept it?  To accept that there are no guarantees, to find the joy tucked amidst the pain, to allow each pain to help me reach my depths and to allow other people to glimpse my depths?  And in doing so, maybe others will let me into their pain?  You can showcase your joy to any old acquaintance. But only true friends are privileged to share in your pain.

It’s easy to list pain we have buried. Take 30 seconds. Go. Start listing. And stop.  My list was: “the Boston bombings, the murder trial, witnessing a suicide on the Mass Ave bridge, witnessing a boy crushed by an SUV on that same bridge, the loss of a friendship, the lies that nearly ended another friendship, times of loneliness and frustration and being passed up for promotions, and…”  I could have kept going.  As I’m sure everyone else could.

Sometimes at work I get to share in people’s pain. It’s hard, particularly when its divorce, death of a child, returning adopted children to their parents, putting a child on a suicide-watch (I’ve dealt with all of those this holiday season). And it’s hard because I’m not always the person they should be sharing with. And afterwards, I just want to run to shake off their pain. Or go to Crossfit and sweat it out. I resolve this year to try harder to sit with people in their pain, to remember that they are plumbing the depths of who they are. And they don’t want to do it alone.

I remember my second phone call after the suicide (the first one being to the police).  I called a coworker knowing he would already be at work. “You have to come here and be with me because this is too icky and sad to handle alone.” And he did.  And while I waited for him, the cop waiting with me said “Pain diminishes, but it never disappears.” And he looked very old and sad when he said that and I almost wish I had asked him how much pain he was carrying. How he handled a job where not enough diminishes before new pain arrives.

So the question remains as I prepare for work in the morning, clean and jerk a barbell overhead, navigate the streets of icy Boston on bike, sit with employees in their struggles, laugh with friends over silliness: “What do we do with these mixed lives we are given?” Here’s to another year of figuring that out.


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