One night last week I was praying for a friend as I went to sleep. As I was praying for her, my mind shifted from seeing her standing on the shore with God to seeing myself seated in the sand with Jesus beside me. For a while, we sat companionably but then he moved into the water and invited me to join him. Before I joined him, he was clear about one thing: moving into this water would hurt. Not because the water was cold (though it was) but because this water was the pain of the world. I was afraid. Would anyone head into something containing the pain of the world without at least pausing?
But I wanted to be near Jesus, so I went. There wasn't anything for me to do with all of this pain, just bear witness to it. And as I stood in the midst of the pain, the water shifted. Standing there beside Jesus, the water immediately surrounding us changed from murky brown to turquoise, aquamarine, sky blue. Instead of sitting stagnant, it shimmered. This beauty didn't mean the pain went away. It was still there, but with beauty amongst it.
Since that prayer, I have tried to choose moments to stand in the pain instead of avoiding it. Perhaps it is not surprising that I've found it is easier to stand in others' pain than my own. My own pain, especially when accompanied by anger, makes me feel shame. One reason I wrote about my frustration, disappointment and sense of abandonment surrounding our magnet school application process was as an attempt to stand in the pain.
I tend to deal with pain in one of two ways: I let anger fuel me and push through it belligerently or I gloss over the pain, moving as quickly as possible to a place where I can see the good instead of the bad. These are not necessary poor ways to cope with the world: seeing things positively does make me more content and pushing through the pain gives (at least the impression of) strength. But there is a difference between coping and growing. I do a lot of the former. I want to do the latter. Choosing to stand in the pain? That's not my typical approach. It requires patience. It requires that I acknowledge everything is not OK. It encourages me to feel deeply. And it hurts.
The only time I willingly stand in the pain is when I have no choice. (I'll let you decide whether that really qualifies as "willing.") There are times when what I am feeling is so big, so encompassing, there is no pushing through or glossing over.
The circumstances surrounding B's school options for next year are not nearly so big as that. There is much I appreciate and enjoy about homeschooling. I treasure the time with B and the flexibility our family will continue to enjoy. But rather than go straight to the silver linings, I felt it was important for me to actually see, dwell on and process the way this particular disappointment has brought pain to my heart. As always, it has been illuminating. (I think pain tends to function as an internal spotlight, showing us the places we neglect, the unkempt corners of our souls.)
What I have seen this time is that I believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that God takes some pleasure in causing me pain. I know this particular idea of who God is comes from my earthly father. He always seemed tickled when I did something wrong or stupid. Why this is true, I am not sure. I hurt for my children when they make a mistake or feel shamed. But that wasn't my own experience. I'm not the only one to confuse God the Father with an earthly father. Richard Rohr writes:
After years of giving and receiving spiritual direction, it has become obvious to me and to many of my colleagues that most peoples’ operative, de facto image of God is initially a subtle combination of their Mom and their Dad, or any early authority figures... The goal, of course, is to grow toward an adult religion that includes both reason and faith and inner experience that you can trust. A mature God creates mature people. A big God creates big people.
I hope I am growing toward a mature faith, but allowing my image of God to change is no small task. Awareness is hopefully the first step, but I imagine I may only have my toe on the first step of a processes comprising many flights of stairs. For now the only thing I know to do is try to sit with the pain and hope that staying in it will allow beauty to enter and commingle with the pain, thereby transforming me in the process.