Seeing Pain Up Close is an Experience of Awe

My life is this mix of the beautiful and the painful. I get both. I am learning more and more about both.

Pain so often wants to make us small. We hide our pain. We cover our pain. We numb our pain. We lie about our pain. There are moments when we truly can’t get out of bed in the morning but we don’t tell anyone about that. We may not shower for a couple of days but we don’t tell anyone about that. We muddle through until it feels safe again to show our beautiful faces. Or at least our filtered faces.

There have been moments in my life when I have allowed certain others to see my pain. They have helped me carry my pain. (I wrote a book about this.) It is in these precious moments that we both experience awe.

Dr. Brene’ Brown defined awe in the beautiful book, Atlas of the Heart,

“When feeling awe, we tend to simply stand back and observe, ‘to provide a stage for the phenomenon to shine.’”

–Dr. Brene’ Brown, Atlas of the Heart, p. 58

Awe takes away your breath. It is all encompassing, at least for that beautiful moment. Pain can also be that beautiful moment.

This is just a starting list of what starts to shine when someone comes near my pain with me:

  • I am not alone.
  • Loneliness can’t lie to me that I am alone.
  • The lies deep in my head that have become extra loud in this tragedy are quieted—for a while. (Keeping it real.)
  • I don’t have to pretend to be okay.
  • I see God through your actions towards me.
  • I see God as good again.
  • I giggle again. Sometimes I laugh full from the gut.
  • I see a way through, enough at least to make a Plan B.
  • I am overwhelmed less.
  • I hear you say you are praying for me and I believe you. I don’t believe too many others, but I believe you.

In these awe-inspiring moments–but still in my pain–I begin to see beauty somehow. I’m extra touched by a tree. Or a song. Or a movie that no one else liked but a line said in that movie felt exactly like how I’m feeling so this movie will always be bonded with me as a moment of hope.

Someone who inspired me to awe recently died as she shared her cancer experience up close. Read these words and feel the awe also:

But here’s one thing I do know: when it comes to pain, God isn’t often in the business of taking it away. Instead, he adds to it. He is more of a giver than a taker. He doesn’t take away my darkness, he adds light. He doesn’t spare me of thirst, he brings water. He doesn’t cure my loneliness, he comes near. So why do we believe that when we are in pain, it must mean God is far?  –Nightbirde/Jane Kristen Marczewski

These words inspire me to awe. Because now I believe that God did not abandon me or got too busy or is distantly ignoring my broken-hearted mess. I stand back and observe and begin to believe that pain has a Holy Spirit magic way of making me beautiful. I want to learn about God like this. Awe often is mixed with wonder and wonder draws us to want to learn more.

Or these words from a cancer survivor:

Seeing pain up close can give you an incredible experience of awe. It’s like seeing a garment turned inside out and all the rough seams are showing. You see someone’s absolute humanity shine through all the pain, and that vulnerability makes them more—not less beloved. –Kate Bowler, Good Enough, pp. 93-94

I am seen and I am more beloved. As my heart is so smashed. I actually believe this about myself because I am seen. My gift of people show me this.

Pain is a meeting place with God. Not a normal meeting place as it is a bit unsafe. Yet this place is also filled with awe–at the same time.

At the end of Job’s disaster, he said, “I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes.” Job 42:5. Pain does have a way of showing us God in all truth. This is why pain is our beginning. I will never be able to unsee God’s faithfulness to me in the depths of my pain. I have learned to see how God is beautiful.

Maybe you don’t see this bigger and lower God that way. Maybe you believe God is far. But from this calloused broken heart, I have learned this. I am in awe about this.

I close with this blessing written by Kate Bowler. Pain lies to us and tells us we are the bad thing so we must stay small. When really, we lead others to awe and show them this beautiful God.

A Blessing for When You Feel Like the Bad Thing

Blessed are you who feel like the bad thing. You are everyone’s reminder of their frailty, of life’s cruelty. Your chronic pain or depression or regular scans remind those around you that life isn’t fair or easy as they had hoped.

Blessed are you who try to hide your humanity. You who temper your complaints, who avoid mentioning your next appointment, who pretend you are doing better than you are to make reality a little more palatable to others. You, who try and try and try to make yourself easier to love, easier to be around, easier to manage.

But dear one, blessed are you because you are not the bad thing. Your illness or grief or despair or addiction is not too much. It’s just your humanity showing.

And blessed are you who get to see it up close. Who, despite our own fears and reminders of our finitude, get to hold your hand as you face each day with courage, confronting things you didn’t choose. It is this kind of courageous living—the kind that shows all the shabby edges—that we are so thankful to witness. You, blessed one, remind us that life is so beautiful and life is so hard. And we feel lucky for the privilege to do life with you—no matter how difficult, no matter how messy. You are not the bad thing. You are a gift. And we love every bit of you. –Kate Bowler, Good Enough, pp. 95-96

(Photo credit by Tom Podmore on Unsplash)


New Bible Study:  Trust Issues with God With Video

Life is unfair. When the unfair thing happens, we look for a reason, a solution, a purpose, justice. These are all things we expect from God. When God doesn’t deliver when we expect or need him to, there is a gap in our understanding of who God is. This Bible study is to help you fill in that gap with trust over suspicion by exploring the truths of the Bible, both individually and in a group setting.

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