Jesus didn’t numb Himself to our pain. Think about that for a moment and let it sink in. Not only did He have compassion on us, but He gave His life so that one day our pain would be over with for good. It’s the amazing truth of the Gospel I’ve heard so many times before. I think I understand it, but through the healing process I’ve begun to see how little I actually comprehend it.
The truth is I have spent an awful lot of time numbing myself to pain; my own pain and the pain of others. Because pain hurts.
What’s scary to me is how long I stayed in a state of numbness refusing to see how the abusive relationship I was in with my pastor was bringing pain to my own life and the lives of others. Hurt people, hurt people.
I lived in this lie, denying the reality of his abuse for almost ten years telling myself the pain wasn’t really that bad, the chains weren’t really there, and that no one else would ever find out. I believed that numbing myself to the truth was the best thing for everyone, but on the inside I felt like I was slowly dying, suffocating behind the thick wall of denial I’d built up. I was going through the motions of life present yet not really present in my family and friends lives.
But the chains became too heavy and I couldn’t fight the pain anymore. I’d fought so long and so hard, but I just couldn’t do it anymore. I felt like I was drowning in a sea of lies. I cried out to Jesus and He pulled me out of the depths.
I was a mess when He pulled me out. Broken, bruised and bleeding all over the place without a thick wall of numbness to hide behind.
I don’t know why after I confessed I expected the church to tell the whole truth about all that had occurred. I guess I thought they were better than I was, but I learned that they weren’t. Because when given the opportunity to tell what really happened they decided it was better to hide the facts and lie to me than face the potential for pain that the whole truth could cause. If people in the church and town heard that the pastor had abused someone he’d counseled it’d make the church look bad and had the potential to cause others to question the counsel they’d been given. It was much easier to put aside all the psychological mumbo jumbo and let people believe it was an affair. That was way more palatable than the whole truth.
But just because it’s palatable doesn’t mean it’s good for us. It just means it prolongs the inevitable pain that will eventually have to come. The nature of pain is that it doesn’t just go away, it only spreads and shifts around to others until the root of what’s causing it is dealt with.
The root cause is our own fallen human state. We think we can do it on our own when the truth is our ways without God’s direction only lead to destruction, and as Jeremiah teaches our hearts are deceitful and wicked and we don’t even know it until God shows us. We are all like sheep gone astray. There is none righteous or good, no not one. Our sins cause pain to ourselves and others and will ultimately to death if Jesus doesn’t save us from ourselves. The pain of this truth is most painful to bear, so we numb ourselves in any way we can. And so often, the very pain we are trying so hard to avoid is actually the very thing that leads us to Him.
But thank God He doesn’t leave us numb. He hears the cries of pain we try so hard to stifle out and He prays for us when we don’t know how to pray. He orchestrates a perfect plan behind even our most destructive choices and doesn’t stop working until we acknowledge the pain and our desperate need for Him.
I have to admit it, I still don’t like pain. My mother recently fell and broke her shoulder and her hip and listening to her talk about her pain is very difficult for me. I’d much rather pretend it didn’t happen, because her broken state is a reminder of my own and that’s what’s really hard. It’s also a reminder of how little control we have over the circumstances in our lives. One day we can be walking and able to go where we like, and the next day we can be confined to a bed dependent on someone else for everything. This thought brings me great discomfort and enormous pain. And I have the choice to numb myself to it or take it to Him.
So the past couple of times I’ve called my mom I’ve really tried to listen to what she has to say. Often when people complain it’s because they just need someone to acknowledge and recognize what they are going through. They don’t need us to fix it or judge them. They just need for us to hear them.
And then what they really need from us is to pray for God to give them what they need even if that means using us to bring about relief by sitting with them in the discomfort of their pain that reminds us of our own. I know, because it was what I desperately longed for from others in the church when I told them about my own pain.
Diane Langberg’s book Suffering and the Heart of God has opened my eyes to how we numb ourselves to our own pain and the pain of others when she tells about the history of Cape Coast Castle in Ghana where she recently visited.
While I was in Ghana a couple of years ago for a conference on violence against women and children, we visited Cape Coast Castle. Hundreds of thousands of Africans were forced through its dungeons and through the door of no return onto slave ships. There were five dungeon chambers for males, and descending into the darkness to one of those dungeons felt claustrophobic. Two hundred men shackled and chained together lived in that dungeon for about three months before being shipped across the Atlantic. We stood in one of the male dungeons listening in the darkness to the whole horrific story when our guide said this: “Do you know what is above this dungeon?” Our heads shook. The chapel. Directly above two hundred shackled men—some of them dead, others screaming, all of them sitting in filth—sat God worshipers. They sang, they read the Scripture, they prayed, and I suppose took up an offering for those less fortunate. The slaves could hear the service, and the worshipers could sometimes hear the slaves (though there were those making them behave so as not to disturb church). It took my breath away. The evil, the suffering, the humiliations, the injustice were overwhelming, and the visual parable was stunning. The people in the chapel were numb to the horrific trauma and suffering beneath them.
God, open our eyes to the realities of what numbing ourselves to the truth really cause. Let us feel and acknowledge our own pain and the pain of others and turn and find freedom, faith, hope and love in You. In Jesus most loving and compassionate name, Amen.
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
Cape Coast Castle in Ghana