Wrestling Down Emotional Pain
By: Mary Ann Mayo
Mary, 53, writes: My husband and I each buried a parent recently, our children keep returning to the nest, some long-term dreams are not working out and the recession has hit our business hard. If one more person tells me, "The Lord will never give you more than you can bear," I will scream. How can I get through this?
You are, indeed, in a painful place, where the sense of loss can be overwhelming. But it's a place we all eventually come to and must work through. The had part is when we're smacked with the reality that we're not in control, it causes us to wrestle with the need for assurance about God's ability to know what's ultimately best for us. That's probably why people quote the Lord's promise that we will never be given more than we can bear. But as our lives flirt with the edge, it's easy to forget the second half of this promise: "without giving a way out."
The truth is we don't always recognize, acknowledge or like the way out that's been revealed, especially if it requires us to wait, live patiently, give up long cherished resentments or reevaluate expectations and desires.
Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancy, collaborating on the book Pain, the Gift Nobody Wants (1993, Zondervan), found pain is actually an early-warning system for survival. While Dr. Brand focuses on the physical pain suffered by his patients, mostly lepers, his advice works for emotional pain as well.
It's important, he writes, to understand that pain dominates. When you harshly stub your toe in an exclusive restaurant, it's natural for both brain and body to respond to what you feel, all decorum and fear of embarrassment aside. That response, physical and emotional, will override all else. Its point is clear: Do something!
It's difficult to develop an approach for dealing with emotional pain while in the midst of it, but there are some things, learned from the body, you can do.
Reduce pain by confronting fear, which is known to intensify whatever else you are feeling. It's been well-documented over the years that women who have prepared for childbirth experience less pain that those who haven't. The lesson? Educating yourself about what you have to face, reading and gathering information about mental or physical concerns, can help you endure.
Surround yourself with nurturing people when you are suffering. Care and love increase your tolerance to pain and enhance recovery. In nature, the weak and wounded are left to die, but the attention of one human by another not only eases suffering, but prolongs life.
Know your perception of pain can be calmed through the power of prayer. Larry Dossey, chief of staff at Dallas Hospital's Medical City and a battalion surgeon in Vietnam, found prayer is like, "a higher form of counseling, often more effective than other therapies."
That's because, counselor and military chaplain Robert Hicks says, God understands pain. In his book Failure to Scream (1993, Thomas Nelson), Hicks lists Bible passages showing this: Genesis 6:6, Exodus 2:24 and 3:7, Judges 10:16, Jeremiah 31:20, Hosea 11:8, Isaiah 63:9, John 1:14-18, 14:4 and chapter 10; Matthew 1:23, 5:4, 20:34, 23:37-39 and 25:41-45.
Hicks encourages these steps to healing:
· Recall your moments of loss.
· Write out what you remember: What happened? What were your feelings? What did you do?
· Decide what you needed at the time, but did not get: protection, comfort, meaningful touches?
· Use the notes you've written to picture the scene of your pain.
· Bring into the scene your image of Jesus, real and close to you. See Him give you what you needed (He's been waiting).
· Thank Him for His presence and ask Him for direction to guide you.
Well-meaning Christians intend to encourage when they leave you with a Scripture like Romans 8:28, "All things work together for good to them that love God." Look for their meaning in the Greek translation: "In everything that happens, God works good with those who love Him."
Without pain as a warning system, lepers wear off their hands and feet. Dr. Hans Selye, who pioneered work on demonstrating the effects of stress on the body summarized his research by concluding that the emotions most stressful to human beings are vengeance and bitterness, and the emotion most supportive of health was gratitude.
"Even the most unpleasant aspects of the body," Dr. Brand encourages, "are signs of its struggle toward health." Latch onto this: Your emotional struggle is a sign of spiritual life, preparing you to heal and get on with something greater.