pain relief not pain removal

pain relief not pain removal*this post is part of the christmas synchroblog centered on Jesus came: did you get what you expected?  i hope you all had a good christmas. ours was sweet & simple & really nice. i’ve been really unplugged all week and have enjoyed the quiet.

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for advent, i wrote a post about hoping to be open: present, humble, vulnerable this christmas season.  when i look back on it now, just over a month later, it makes me laugh.  vulnerable is definitely the right word for the past month; i think i cried every day for a couple of weeks during advent!  one of the hazards of this kind of living is when we risk our hearts, it will sometimes get trampled on.  it’s part of the cost.  and even though i’ve been in this place before and know the feeling, i can’t completely avoid the pain of feeling used and hurt, and doubting this is all worth it.

thankfully, the amazing Jesus-with-skin-on-people-in-my-life helped carry me through.

the past few weeks have felt a little more sane, a little more balanced, a little more clear.  but at the same time, just as relief came, a new overwhelming feeling arose–the amount of needs in every direction.  it’s nothing new, really, but maybe in my “open, present, vulnerable” season i felt it more.  or maybe it’s because the holidays bring extra pain & struggle & need to the surface. the degree of poverty & pain & loneliness all around was just extra intense and caused me to question so many things. i found myself asking:

“does what we do even matter?”

“why even bother when the systems around everyone are so deeply grooved toward inequity and oppression?”

 “maybe getting an inspiration high really will sustain people more than the little bit of tangible love we are able to pass on?” 

“why in the %(#&!^!*!(! do people keep giving their money to church buildings when their money could help exponentially with basics  like beds & dressers & gas & food & warm clothes to families who really need it?”

“God, you’ve got some people who really, really need hope right now.  can you please help?”

the last one is the one that lingered.  and i was reminded of what teresa of avila said:

“Christ has no body but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

even though Jesus came into the world as a human and knows our pain and suffering and promised us life would be hard & harsh but that in him, we could have hope & joy & peace & love in the midst, i often forget.

i think the trouble is i actually long for pain removal.  the absence of pain. the abracadabra kind of pain removal that some parts of my faith experience once promised.  pray harder, hope more, surrender more, and it will be “gone”.  i know better by now, i really do, but still, if i’m really honest, i keep wanting (and in weird crazy ways still expecting) pain removal.

what i got instead was a reminder that hope this side of heaven is about pain relief.

maybe that’s a piece of what the incarnation is about.  pain relief.

we can’t remove pain.  God doesn’t seem to remove pain, either.  in fact, he chose to enter directly into it to provide relief in the midst.  hope, healing, love, joy, mercy, peace.

and it most always seems to come through a weird combination of flesh & spirit.  

hope, mercy, and love don’t drop out of the sky.  they usually come from experience.  from interactions.  from real in-the-flesh relationships.  from presents that get delivered even though we know they won’t make one bit of difference next month.  from a hug that might be the only human touch someone receives all week.  from a kind word when harsh ones are usually the only ones heard.  from a hot meal around a messy kitchen table.  from simple hellos to long, drawn-out conversations about deep wounds.  from eyes meeting eyes and hearts meeting hearts.

these little things provide pain relief.

they won’t take away reality.  they won’t change systems that will keep working against people.  they won’t pay the bills next month.  they won’t immediately mend a broken heart or get someone a job or heal a chronic illness or reconcile a failed marriage.

but they will provide some pain relief, a cup of cold water, a healing balm, a sweet fragrance.

on christmas eve when we were singing o holy night (by far my favorite carol), i felt these words stir my soul:

“truly he taught us to love one another, his law is love and his gospel is peace. chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother. and in his name all oppression shall cease.”

i have been thinking of this since christmas eve.  i keep wanting big oppression to cease. i keep wanting all the chains to break that keep people stuck. i keep wanting freedom & comfort my way.  really, i keep wanting pain removal.

but i was reminded this season, yet again and again, how the small things make a difference.  that our hands and feet and hearts and eyes and ears matter.  that when we intersect with each other in love, chains break and oppression ceases, if even for that moment.  that Jesus is alive & well & moving & healing & transforming & revealing love in us and through us and with us. 

yeah, in all kinds of ways, i got some pain relief this christmas. thank you, God. i hope i was able to pass some on, too.

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other bloggers writing on the same topic, enjoy:

 

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

23 Comments

  • Oh, I was just thinking the same thing on my drive to work this morning.
    The desperate phone calls don’t stop, need and pain and loneliness, scared desperate people and often nasty, mean people are my every day work.

    Does it matter? Are we making a difference? Do I care if we’re making a difference?

    But wait. There’s something else. As I read through the thank you notes and think about the words that people have said “I don’t know what I would have done without your help”, etc… I remember that in this small corner of the world, all our efforts are bringing hope and light and love. And there are kind, grateful people too.

    Yes, the pain, the desperation will ALWAYS surround us. And so will the beauty. The tears and laughter, the dark and light, the kind and the mean, both will always be with us.

    Reply
    • sorry i am so late on responding to these. for some reason i thought i did 🙂 yeah, the little reminders are more sustaining than we think & it is so true, the pain will never be gone but the slivers of light are so beautiful and reminders of how we are in our little tiny simple ordinary ways participating in bringing God’s hope & love & life to dark places. thanks my friend.

      Reply
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  • How very many cups of cool water you have offered! Thanks for being one who does not shy away from others’ pain. (And I love the new look of your site!)
    Cheers, friend, Ellen

    Reply
    • thanks ellen, whenever i am with you, my thirst is quenched. hope i get to see you soon!

      Reply
  • Here’s two of us who do not give even a penny to help pay for church buildings, programs and all that goes with those. We wish there was some way to keep any of our tax money from being spent to help pay for war.

    The pain and need are always present, in our lives as well as in the lives of others. Sometimes it is difficult to know how to best help.

    One idea that we use: We usually do not give out items at Christmas (unless it is to someone we know who is not having their need met by anyone else), since the poor and homeless often receive food and other need items then. We wait a week or two. Donations usually disappear soon after New Year’s day.

    We’re also extremely careful about who we give money to. Money given to many organizations ends up paying for their overhead – rent, staff, office supplies and so on and very little ends up making it as far as the people in need. I’d love to give some specific examples here, but that would probably rock the boats of some people who strongly dislike having their boats rocked.

    Reply
    • thanks, sam, yeah, we are in the same boat. nothing random, nothing just in a pile of a bunch of other stuff. one thing that has always helped us is that we have never had a lot of money but we always have had a lot of heart. but boy do i wish we lived closer to each other because there’s such a deep need for presence, for long-haulness, for simple acts of kindness & love and you are the master at those!

      Reply
  • You offer me gallon after gallon of cool water, especially when my internal anesthesia runs thin. Totally settled into the idea the ways of following Jesus don’t = obliteration of trouble/aching/sorrow, but mann, am I ever so grateful for *every* bit of pain relief. xo

    Reply
    • thanks my dear. what a great line: “especially when my internal anesthesia runs thin…”

      Reply
  • this reminds me of something that really struck me in your book

    p. 82, from your book “Down We Go: Living into the Wild Ways of Jesus” …

    Loving people who never change, who bug the hell out of us,
    who aren’t kind or thankful, who don’t pass on grace even
    though they’ve received heaps of it — that requires much
    more work.

    i know that i come from the disadvantage of a dysfunctional /co-dependent background. i try to be self aware. but often find that i have emptied my cup and have no one to help me refill it. there is frequently no thanks, often even resentment?, and sometime this feeling of being taken for granted.

    i don’t know the answer to all of this and i feel sorrow.

    all i can do is live by the golden rule.

    Reply
    • Karla, We (my wife and I) also struggle with these same issues. We’ve haven’t solved them, but here’s a couple of things that help us: First, find a few people who are not like this. Loving people. People who say thanks. People like Kathy. (We usually find these people somewhere other than church.)

      Then, since we don’t have enough resources to help everyone, we tend to help those who do appreciate it (Otherwise we don’t want to help anyone). We too have run across those who get angry with what we did for them. Our classic story: We provided a free dinner for a church group (I am a retired caterer and know how to cook), complete with make-your-own ice cream sundaes with a choice of toppings. One woman was very angry because we did not provide chopped nuts to put on the sundaes. (She had major food addiction problem.)

      We have discovered that the homeless are much more appreciative of what we have to offer than are church groups. After spending time with the homeless and sharing what we have with them, we feel encouraged and decide that we want to continue to share with them. With many church groups (The Refuge was definitely an exception when I was there recently), we get in the car to go home after the event and say “Never again!”

      Find people who love and appreciate you and then maybe you will be in a position to help some who don’t love and appreciate much of anyone.

      Reply
      • sam/karla – i appreciate your frankness and willingness to share your feelings about helping others. i have experienced the same sort of thing in working with the homeless, the occupy denver people, church people, unchurched people, my children, husband, etc. i find that if i expect a response from the people i am serving i will be sorely disappointed. instead, i go into it telling myself i will get no thanks, i deserve no thanks, that i am not serving person “x”, i am serving Jesus. i am washing His feet, i am bandaging His wounds. when i look at the people i use my imagination to see Jesus’ face, to picture him smiling and patting me on the back and saying, well done good and faithful servant.

        Reply
    • oh thanks for sharing so purely, karla. it is so risky, this love thing, and the fine line between too much & not enough but i love your thoughts about the golden rule and to continue to respect and recognize our limitations, too. so thankful for you & i read my “let go or be dragged” magnet every morning when i get the cream for my coffee 🙂

      Reply
  • I experience the same feeling of being overwhelmed this time of year in our community. There is a quiet desperation that seems to find voice at Chistmas – the gap between the vision Christ came to usher in and our present reality clash for me but God always enters into the gap in unexpected ways. Glad that I am not alone in experiencing this place of pain and relief.

    Reply
    • yeah, “quiet desperation” is a great word. it is wild, too, the beautiful ways God enters into the gap, isn’t it. always a reminder of why i believe in miracles and how they are usually small but extraordinary ways hope & love & healing is somehow experienced. look forward to hearing more about how this year unfolds for you & your ministry, too, so much to learn from you.

      Reply
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