The liminal space of pain is the place where we receive an invitation to healing.
We feel as though we are sick and dying. Soul, spirit, and mind wounds become burdens we cannot carry. We never should have tried. The burdens are real, but, has anyone told you…? Has anyone told you that there are burdens that you have and will know, but they are not yours to carry?
There are wounds that wind our souls so tight we quit breathing from our bellies. That’s how babies breathe. Until the pain comes, we breathe from our bellies. Then we swallow the pain down to our guts and kill ourselves—but we simply think we’re trying to survive.
And, in reality, we are. What’s so horrible about that? Why should surviving make us sick?
It’s this question I have to capture; and have it be a memorial in time, so I’ll never forget. I don’t want to forget that surviving really does have more to do with thriving than I learned at first. That these two elements – survivng and thriving – are not opposites but brothers walking side by side. I never want to forget that brokenness is the invitation to wholeness. Rest, stillness, and wonder, much like faith, hope, and love, will outlast any and all of my striving.
Now I can look back and see and hear certain people speaking into my life. They are living memorials to their hard winters. This heart-sharing often is a gift in response to need. The things they said to me, they hoped I wouldn’t forget. Things I didn’t want to hear, but needed to. But, then I became strong again, so I forgot. Being strong, it becomes easier to be weak. We get shamed. We start to believe maybe the shamers are right.
Love rejected is a source of deep inner pain. It becomes a strange, contorted thing, but what if it doesn’t have to? What if… What if you healed me when you said, “Welcome, my friend, come in!”? What if I healed you in return when I said, “Thank you, I need you. I need you. I need to be with you and to hear you!”?
Brennan Manning in his book Abba’s Child speaks of a story he read in The Wounded Healer. It’s about a rabbi who asked the prophet Elijah when the Messiah would come.
Elijah replied that the rabbi should ask the Messiah directly and that he would find Him sitting at the gates of the city.
“How will I know Him?” the rabbi asked.
Elijah replied, “He is sitting among the poor covered with wounds. The others unbind all their wounds at the same time and then bind them up again. But the Messiah unbinds one at a time and binds it up again saying to himself, ‘Perhaps I shall be needed. If so, I must always be ready so as not to delay for a moment.'”
The suffering servant of Isaiah recognizes His wounds, lets them show, and makes them available to the community as a source of healing.
Manning goes on to express that grace and healing are communicated through the vulnerability of men and women who have been fractured and broken by life. And then he writes one of my very favorite lines in his book,
In Love’s service, only wounded soldiers can serve.
This is the radiant hope in all our suffering. To release the weight of expectations and concerns we put on ourselves, or those that we resignedly accept in the midst of it all, and instead receive the wisdom of grace that says, “Do not be afraid little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” You can aspire to your identity as His sons and daughters.
Illness, division, lack of peace; these should not surprise us nor stop us from bearing fruit, that is true. But what does it mean to bear fruit? Does it mean to work in our own strength, bear our burdens, until we are bent into the ground? Don’t you think we get our role confused in all this martyr-like living we’re doing?
When pain comes we are the people of God; we overcome. But what if overcoming has more to do with honesty and open hands than it does with, “Faking it ’till making it”? What if overcoming is more about calling it what it is and praising our Father in heaven even still.
Like our matriarch Leah, when she named Judah, in the midst of what the Bible calls “a pain beneath which the earth trembles”—to be a woman unloved, she said, “This time, I will praise the Lord.”
What does it mean to give grateful praise even in in the midst of our pain and grief? It is knowing that, even then, nothing separates us from the love of God. It is understanding that our broken places and our weaknesses are not our definition, the end, or a punishment, but rather a beginning, a way forward, even the very door.
As Paul said, we too can say, “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Messiah can rest on me.” Because His grace is enough we don’t have to keep trying to be enough. To Him, we already are. We are His Beloved. He knows our frame. “His power is made perfect in our weakness.” We don’t need to be ashamed, we can actually boast!
Boasting in our God isn’t a shiny, pretty thing we do during congregational worship; it’s what we do when we open our hands, lift our heads, and come out of hiding in the day-to-day. It doesn’t mean not mourning, or grieving; it means weeping as we walk with seeds in our hands—watering them as we go.
This is our healing, and healing for many others if we are willing to share. This is where His power comes in and rests on us in our weakness. This is where we get to return to His arms of comfort and rest. This is what we discover in the liminal space of pain.