I’ve always had a sinking suspicion that popular Christianity in the states has very little, if anything, meaningful to say on the subject of intense personal pain: be it addressing death, abandonment, betrayal, or a whole slew of other violations of close, personal relationships. And now after this summer, I’m pretty much convinced of the inadequacy.
Fundamentally, it seems we do not know how to grieve and instead we look for the pain numbing salve or the morphine drip. However, we cannot truly medicate the grieving process. (Now I am clearly not saying that we shouldn’t use medicine, after all, I’m neither a Scientologist or Tom Cruise; rather I am saying that the grieving process on the whole cannot be and should not be avoided, but is very necessary and very long.) The problems begin though – not with our feeble attempt to address deep pain, but even before addressing pain – we first do not even have a clue about pain itself.
I think this way because in my experience, we use our language in such a trite way – our greetings are devoid of meaning. When we say “Hello, how are you” we really just mean “greetings and tell me you’re happy.” And because we have lost the meanings of phrases to cultural connotations, I think we miss seeing pain, or even real joy, in others, much less ourselves. We first have to admit the presence of pain before we can address it, but our speech (much less the time we spend with one another, which is short in a fast paced world) betrays what we really want to hear from others, or what we are willing to say to others.
Also, I do not think we can speak well to another person’s pain. While “Draw near to God” is theologically sound, its clichéd as hell and devoid of real meaning because no one really can say what the hell drawing near to God actually is. So first, how do we put meaning back into the phrase? Well, the only way I can see the phrase beginning to have any meaning is when it comes from someone who has gone through similar pain. Other wise the person in pain just wants to shoot the person giving the advice.
Even more important, what does the phrase “draw near to God” really mean? – besides crying out for peace, rest and sanity from the divine? It seems to me that this phrase has lost meaning because American Christianity has lost community; without community, it is far too lonely to attempt to live while one’s entire torso feels like a forcefully collapsed paper bag. Drawing near to God ought to mean that we draw near to each other in the body; we draw near to the Christ in each of us and in the other people. The personal relationship between God and the sufferer is vital, no doubt about that, but it seems that often, it is God through another human being is where we tangibly meet God’s loving presence – normally not receiving answers, but certainly presence and hope. You are not alone and it will not always be this way, now let us grieve together.