Moving Towards Pain (A personal growth update)
What I’m learning as I face my inner demons and relationships of the past.
For quite a while now, I’ve struggled with recurring headaches – not migraines and not usually too severe, but they happen at least once a month. In recent months they’ve become a bit more consistent, which has gotten my attention.
For me, stress often manifests in physical symptoms. While this isn’t pleasant, it can be a blessing in that it compels me to stop and take an honest look at myself. Though I don’t feel like I’ve overextending myself too much, maybe I have a blind spot. Maybe I’m being impacted in ways I don’t yet understand.
As a result of my headaches, I’ve decided to be as vulnerable and open as possible, to consider all possible factors in my life – whether physical or non-physical. I’m seeking things I can do, or even accepting that I may not be able to figure out the answer, which may be the hardest thing for me to swallow. You can imagine I’ve gotten a flood of suggestions and advice – “it’s eye strain or blood pressure,” “adjust your diet or exercise,” “see a chiropractor or doctor,” “explore psychological issues with a counselor,” and “just pray.”
I don’t mind the ideas. Sometimes in the process of exploring new approaches and internal struggles, I’m able to learn and discover new things about myself and how I’d like to mature.
This year, I’d like to grow in the area of confrontation.
“Confrontation” may have some negative connotations, as one of my coworkers reminded me recently, but author Dr. John Townsend clarifies that it simply means to “turn one’s face toward someone or something.” I like this definition, because I want to be moving toward a person when I confront them, because I care about them and our relationship. I want to face them with gentleness and firmness, not avoid them.
So this year, one of my personal goals is to gain experience and capacity to face unresolved things in my life, whether it’s strained relationships or demons from the past. I don’t want to do this in such an intense way that I take on more than is appropriate, but to slowly start down the road. So some of this has meant me facing myself, and coming to grips with my mistakes, losses, and grief. Some of it has meant initiating conversations with people whom I’ve hurt, who have hurt me, or where there are unresolved issues.
As I’ve been doing this, I’ve been asking for support and prayer… and I’ve been praying a lot too! And one passage that God has brought often to mind is John 21, after Jesus’ death and resurrection. As his disciples are fishing on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus appears on the shore to face them. He does so very relationally, even preparing and sharing a meal of fish and bread with them.
After the meal Jesus directly confronts his disciple Peter, asking him three times, “Do you love me?” Remember, Peter had denied that he even knew Jesus three times, when he had been under threat of arrest. Can you imagine how awkward it must have been for Peter sitting at breakfast that morning, not knowing whether Jesus would forgive him for those betrayals? Maybe he was hoping that they wouldn’t even talk about it, and let it go as part of the past.
But Jesus chose not to ignore Peter’s failures, and the pain of the past. Jesus chose to remind Peter of that pain – gently but directly. Jesus moved toward Peter, reaffirming his belief in Peter by charging and entrusting him with a clear call to leadership (“Feed my sheep” and “Follow me!”).
I take away a few practical ideas, believe it or not, from this example. Cook food or share a meal with someone we need to face. Connect with them relationally, and talk with them personally (one-on-one). Affirm belief in the kind of leader they can be.
But more than any of that, I’m reminded to move toward pain – and not shy away from the difficult, uncomfortable, and messy things of the past. When I do that, I often don’t like what I see. However, I’m learning the radical truth of Christian leadership: God loves us not when we’re perfect or ideal, but as we are… with every single one of our flaws, failures, and betrayals.
When I’m so full of shame that I can’t face myself or others, I’m experiencing the good news that God has turned his face toward me already – and it’s not a face of judgment but of love. Not a cheap love, but one that’s endured pain. It’s a love that’s neither permissive or dismissive, but calls us to greater things.
As I learn to face other people in my life, I want to show that kind of love to them as well. Please check in with me, and/or pray for me as I grow in doing that!
What are you learning and growing in this year? I’d love to hear.