by Rand Seay

Tag: Staying with Pain

Content about moving into your pain in an attempt to heal it.

Where We’ve Walked

Our almost seven-year-old, five-year-old, and three-year-old just got settled in front of the TV, and I just took my first deep breath this morning. They’re watching PBS Kids, which feels better than letting them binge on the kid section of our Netflix account. I’m not sure why, but it does.

I can hear my wife’s yoga class going in the next room, and I just sat down at the computer. We agreed to a 30-minute hiatus before we trying to re-engage with each other. That should be enough time for our triggers to quiet down enough to start to see each other again.

I’m genuinely starting to trust that we will see and reconnect with each other today; that the excruciating work we’ve done over the last year has taken root and will carry us through disconnections like this. Trust has been slow to build in me because for much of our eight-year marriage I was convinced that I was disposable.

Last April, Jessica and I were on the verge of divorce and were deciding to attend a week-long marriage intensive before calling it quits. Even our decision to attend the intensive came as a surprise to both of us. We had been separated the previous five months, and it seemed like our marriage was simply too broken to fix.

It was a messy, brutal, season, filled with pain and trauma. I started writing as it was happening, which seems insane as I think about it. I was living my worst nightmare, and that was when I decided to open my life up to the world. A little backward, isn’t it? I found it therapeutic to write about what I was experiencing and found that what I said seemed to resonate with people. It was a way to let people in, and I’m glad I did. Even though I grimace a little when I think about those posts, I am choosing to embrace them as a necessary part of my growth and healing.

Since I left off writing in February of last year on a bit of a cliff-hanger, I am going walk through what has happened since then, where we are now, and where we are going.

Our family photo from September 2019

Finding our way back

In my last post, titled “Do Not Be Afraid” (Feb 2019), I was coming to terms with the fact that I would be okay if our marriage ended. I starting to accept the death of the relationship and was expecting to receive paperwork at any moment. But it didn’t come. A small seed in Jessica and I grew enough to accept the invitation to attend a marriage intensive together in mid-April.

We drove to Branson, MO (separately) for a Hope Restored marriage intensive, a group-oriented program. There were couples from all walks of life in various states of crisis. I immediately began to see myself in other couples, and a feeling of love and empathy grew out of the vulnerable atmosphere.

To be completely honest, I came to the intensive expecting and wanting the counselors to come down hard on Jessica, to shake her by the shoulders and wake her up. I smugly thought the villain was clear in our relationship and was shocked when the clinicians met her deeply with empathy, gentleness, and truth-filled nudges. In the meantime, one of the things they were teaching was lodging its way into my heart.

“My heart is my job”

It’s a simple statement, but as that concept was unpacked and hammered into our heads, it started to open up language for me to name something deeply problematic about the way I interact with my world. It directly confronted elusive but central beliefs that I held about relational intimacy. I expect Jessica and other core relationships to care for my heart, meet my needs, and provide my value. I took little to no responsibility for my own well-being. This makes sense because I grew up in a safe place where that worked. We all played by the rules for the sake of intimacy and created an amazing bubble of safety and refuge. But when I was outside of that environment, I floundered.

Even as I write that, I get mixed up a bit. Shouldn’t it be okay to expect care and love from core relationships? Absolutely. It is vital for healthy relationships. But I had gotten on a messed up path where I made it a pattern to dangle my heart in vulnerable and dangerous places. Here’s what that looked like:

  • I vowed to take up zero space. I tried to mold myself around Jessica because she is exciting and powerful and compelling. I made myself a stowaway in her story and hoped that she would see me and love me. I’m coming out of this one, but often feel like I’m being an asshole.
  • I defaulted to listening. I felt and still fall back to feeling that the only safe place for me in my marriage is my own private inner world. I was determined to never need my wife. I hid behind listening, trying to keep the lid on the growing pressure inside me. I made myself bear anything she needed to process out loud, which was awful. She’s a verbal processor and a fierce woman, so I often felt like an emotional punching bag.
  • I rescued. Jessica deals with intense battles that I don’t have to face, so I trained both of us to rely on me for stability. I became an extension of Jessica or a resource to be used. I still struggle with this every day.
  • I became a victim and made her the villain. As I tried to disappear it was easier and easier to place all of the blame for my inner torment on her. She was the bad guy and I was the martyr. Yep, still a trigger in our day-to-day life.
  • Last, but not least, I got smug. That shouldn’t be past tense. I get smug. It’s a nasty one, but a common tool in my nice guy toolkit. I communicate to Jessica that ultimately I am right and that her feelings are invalid. The sinister part of this type of pride is that I deny responsibility for judging or silencing her.

I’m glad it’s easy to remember because the phrase “my heart my job” is something I need to hear every. single. day. But I’m learning and practicing. It is mostly through my head that if I am going to have my needs met, I need to lead the charge and give others windows into my interior world. A year ago that would have been heartbreaking to write. I would have had to grieve the fact that my wife isn’t going to create a bubble for me, an idea that contradicts the rules of intimacy that I learned from my family of origin. But today those words feel empowering.

Starting to rebuild

Something in us shifted just enough in Branson set us moving toward one another when we returned home. We both felt extremely fragile but started to reconnect little by little. I remember trying to own my longings and emotions more honestly and felt energized and unlocked in ways that I had never felt before. My mindset began to shift away from expecting her to heal my wounds and fill my empty places to owning these things myself. Triggers still came up, but we had new tools to face our disconnections and stop vicious cycles before they spiraled out of control. We also were careful to avoid walking through the trauma surrounding the separation until we could begin to see a new couple’s therapist.

In June we moved Jessica back into the house and continued to ease back into relationship with each other. We knew we had a long road ahead of us trying to rebuild from the ground up. I needed to know that I wasn’t going to be abandoned, that she was going to commit to showing up consistently. And she needed me to stop villainizing her and hear her. Our individual work in therapy was critical to keep us moving in this new direction and not fall back into our old, vicious patterns. I remember we felt the need to replace our patterns with new patterns, which was hard and painful. We had those patterns for a reason. They kept us safe.

What emerged in my heart over the summer months was the desire to allow myself to be seen by Jessica, and to need her. This felt like trying to walk on a frozen lake during the spring thaw. I had many strategies in place to avoid trusting the ice under my feet. But that’s where I felt called to go. My old ways had led down the path of destruction, and I was called to trust the work that Jessica was doing to show up, be consistent, and risk being misunderstood. We were both stumbling in the general direction of facing our fears, and that brought us closer and closer together.

Strengthening our foundation

We re-entered couples therapy in October with a very experienced therapist, where we started the grim task of walking through trauma surrounding the separation. We needed to start to name and mend that part of our story, and we knew we needed another person to guide us through it. The sessions directed themselves as we flowed between examining and normalizing our disconnections, processing through our pain, celebrating growth, and finding compassion for each other.

Somewhere along the way Jessica and I deepened our relationship well past where it was before. We are daily working to trust each other, own our part of the mess, and see each other in the context of our unique stories.

One of our weekly couples therapy sessions especially stands out. We pulled back a deep layer of our relationship and Jessica saw my commitment and love for her in a new and powerful way. She said it felt like a tangible taste of how beloved she is by God. Our security with one another expanded and a context was created for us to trust and access each other’s hearts in more profound ways. It was a satisfying and rewarding breakthrough for us.

No time for a breather

We had one or two truly good weeks in January 2020 when we were hit by a huge curveball surrounding my work. All the trust we had been building together was immediately put to the test. We have been relying on each other and leaning on each other in a beautiful way. And that is roughly where we find ourselves right now. Each day is challenging and rewarding and often messy. We can become adversaries again in a split-second. But we feel good about the direction we are headed. We are getting there by owning our stories and sticking to the work laid out before us as individuals and as a couple.

Do Not Be Afraid

For the last three months, I’ve read and re-read the New Testament, and what sits with me now is that one of Jesus’ most common refrains is “do not be afraid.” For much of this separation, I have choked on those words. How can Jesus invite me not to fear when all of my deepest fears and insecurities came to life before my very eyes? I was not ready for the idol of my marriage to be smashed in the manner that it was. God clearly has not hesitated to allow me to be unspeakably wounded and traumatized. Yet in the midst of my circumstances, He tells me “do not be afraid.” He invites me to trust Him with my needs by laying down my strategies and embracing my pain. I’m fortunate to be able to enjoy rich conversations with my sister and dad. We have a text message group called “book club”, even though we never seem to be able to be in the same book at the same time. Alys sent a poem she came across that has stayed with me:

A Voyage Taken

The compass breaks, the mast is down
my soul heeds this: the world is round;
the rising heart,
the dream and pulse,
on a sea-wind carries us.

The birds are dipping under waves,
the fish bolt upward on their wings
and we, the captain and the crew,
suspended over the abyss,
hold the wheel and rig with faith
as this frail vessel dives beneath.

Good sire, we cry,
the waves are high!
Good youth, he answers from the sky,
beyond the fracture line of land and air
your port is near, your home is there.

Michael O’Brien, from Island of the World

As difficult as it is to say it, this separation has been a healthy thing for me. I held my relationship with Jessica in such a way that when it was taken away, I was plunged into depression. I’m invited to face that in a way I have never been able to. Welcoming the diagnosis of depression was an easier thing than I imagined it would be. It really fits where I have been at, and taking an antidepressant has definitely helped keep my lows from being too low. In this separation, I’ve also seen that I have been dangerously close to burning out as a parent. Except for a handful of days, the kids have been sleeping at the house with me these last three months. The combination of their regressing sleep schedules and my insomnia has been a recipe for disaster. My employer has been immensely supportive, but I’ve seen my productivity suffer terribly. Difficulty concentrating, daytime fatigue, and a truly awful winter are all thrown on top of feeling like I’m drowning. Snow days, sickness, filling in childcare gaps, broken pipes, all the curveballs that come with three kids 5 and under, and being confined to the house in the evenings have really worn me down as a father. I’m typing this with a black eye, a swollen quad, and I’m still nursing a slight compression fracture in my lower back, all from basketball. I am seeing an invitation for me to find more respite as a parent, to receive rest, and rediscover who I am. I feel like I might be surprised by who I find.

It will take a long time to fully explore my damage from feeling discarded, but that isn’t so loud anymore. There’s more going on than how it appears; unseen battles that happen within a misunderstood war. The supports surrounding me have helped me see truth more clearly, and I have more perspective as I hold my circumstances at arm’s length. God wants to heal my pain and to do that I have to stop thrashing and welcome what He has for me. I’m also seeing that as He heals my pain, He has work He is asking me to do. He wants me to move towards the next loving thing I see. To follow the law of love moment by moment. To have compassion when He prompts me and also to have firm boundaries and advocate for truth in love. That honestly requires all the strength I can muster but has unexpectedly brought refreshing peace in the midst of the turmoil.

A stormy sea and a lighthouse

Right now love has looked like moving towards a 50-50 schedule. To be honest, I was ready to go all in on a custody battle and fight tooth and nail for primary residential status, but I was able to see an invitation to release that. My feelings are still conflicted, but it was absolutely clear that I needed to lay down that fight. I worry about the kids’ emotional well-being and their wounds but trust that God will take care of their hearts. I worry about the child support that would come with a 50-50 arrangement but trust that God will meet my needs and has a plan for where I will live. I bristle over not being seen in the burden I’ve carried with the kids care but know that He wants to give me more rest. I desperately want the kids to be with their mom, for their sake and for hers. It is a severe gift to be a parent, and who am I to take that away from anyone who asks for it?

I feel called to invite reconciliation because I have such high regard for the covenant Jessica and I made together. I feel compassion for her and have a vision of presenting her at the end of our lives closer to who God designed her to be. I was the man chosen for that, and it wasn’t a mistake. I see how God has equipped me to be His tool in her life, and think there is a path forward for us, together.

It might seem strange, but I am also making peace with the fact that it is looking like redemption will not happen. The path thus far certainly doesn’t seem to be leading there. The difference is that I see now that a divorce would not be the end of me. I trust that I would be cared for and that my needs would be met down that road just the same.

I truly, truly need not be afraid.

Calculation and Codependency

This separation has been a ripe time for me to explore myself and has pulled back the curtain on many things in my heart. I’m starting to build a more lasting type of strength, and catch glimpses of God’s mercy in this time. On the better days, I feel closer to being able to say that this has been a good thing, crucial for my growth. On harder days, making it through the day feels like a victory.

There is a little plant that ended up at the house at the beginning of this separation. It might have been an extra one that Jess didn’t have a place for, I’m not sure. It sat on the table looking ok if not a little puny. But within a day or two, it had absolutely no leaves. Every single one lay on the table. Whether they fell off because of the change in environment or because our two year old ripped them off I can’t be sure. Either way, the plant was just a bleak and pitiful stem. I considered throwing it out, but instead, I tried watering it. I continued to water it and care for it in the days and weeks that followed. I made sure to keep the soil moist, and somewhere along the line it sprouted tiny leaves. It now sits in a sunnier spot, receives the water it needs, and continues to grow. Hopefully, that continues. I identify with this plant. I’ve felt like my leaves were stripped away and that I have been parched. Only with water and sun have I been able to see new growth. I am clinging to God’s word daily, supported by strength no my own, and with so much help am digging into what he has to show me about myself.

This little guy is looking like he’s going to make it after all!

I am seeing more clearly a deep-seated pattern in myself. I desperately want to feel put together and make sure my needs are met. I become deeply uncomfortable if I cannot see where something leads, doing my best to avoid pain and keep the boat from rocking. I calculate. I use all the tools at my disposal to build for myself a crutch of control to help me feel ok through life. I choose to trust my strategies instead of turning to God and sitting in my fear of what will happen. I have many opportunities to grapple with that daily and see that it stirs up anxiety, grief, frustration, hopelessness. A good way to talk myself down from it is to remember that I am only called to take the step right in front of me and that I haven’t been given grace and strength for tomorrow yet. It takes nearly all my energy to turn off that noise and get in touch with where I am and what I need. It’s also hard to then move out of that.

A relational way I calculate is through people-pleasing, or codependency. I try to control my world by manipulating the way people feel. I say people, but I am uncovering how my main victim was and continues to be Jess. In my marriage, I ran everything through a Jess-ometer. The Jess-ometer is a name I made up for the thing that tells me how I think she will respond to the things I do, the things I say, and the mood I create. She receives no invitations from me when the Jess-ometer is running. Instead, I choose to try to read her mind, to make decisions for her, and manipulate her. I try to inspire respect and manage her mood. I’m starting to sit with the damage that has caused. There is no room for her to be a normal human who grows, changes, and needs things. How could I actually love her when I am so busy trying to keep her happy?

As my chief idol, I was so focused on the Jess-ometer that I failed to love my wife. That played itself out in a few ways. I subtly manipulate with my words, actions, and tone. I was and still am constantly tempted to try to win her through softness, large gestures, or movement toward her. Even if I can’t win her I may try to cover lost ground after I feel like I’ve pushed her away. In this separation, I have had to learn to slow down when I feel softness towards her because I often betray myself and see that softness as a chance to prove myself to her. This way of thinking is so ingrained in my manner of relating to her that it often comes out without me noticing it. I’ve struggled with that deeply in recent days and weeks. It comes out in the motive behind a text message or in the mood I create when we interact. I’m grateful for the physical space to be able to slow myself down, question my motives, and grieve my pattern. Again, this still happens daily.

I have also missed opportunities to offer another kind of love to Jess. Not necessarily the fuzzy, feel-good love of me doing things for her. Or of me cherishing her thoughts, ideas, and perspective (none of which I did well). Or creating for her. Those are beautiful expressions of love (when not manipulative), but love isn’t that black-and-white. The love I consistently failed to give to Jess (and still fail at) was asking for my needs to be met. Inviting her to partner with me in hard things. Persistently asking for my longings to be acknowledged. Guarding boundaries. Speaking truth in love. In other words, things that I thought would have made the Jess-ometer low but were actually good things for both of us.

This pattern is even harder for me to fight than manipulating Jess through movement toward her. I am petrified of saying or doing anything that I think will push Jess further away. In a world where I set her up as an idol, I would choose anything over pushing her further away. I would much rather swallow my pain and truth. But when I do it builds resentment and feeds my victim mentality. I’ve built up such a victim mindset that it leaks out all the time. It pervades my relationship with Jess, who to her credit has seen it and called me out on it over the years. I never owned that and even blamed her in it.

The thing that I am seeing is that in being a victim and failing to love her in this way for long enough, many other things suffered. The warm, outward movement of love became more manipulative, less free-flowing, stopped progressing, or even ceased altogether. What a terribly dark pattern. I became a victim and a martyr because in that posture I could try to heap conviction on her. That’s an ugly thing to write and face. But it’s dead true. Oh, how deeply I embraced and still embrace a victim mentality. It’s so hard to shake, but I am trying to shake it.

As much as I want to focus on everything but myself, pray for me as I sit in this bare spot. God means to deal with my sinful heart, and I have been in a perilous place where I can easily play a victim and attempt to manipulate. Before publishing this post, I found that I wanted to confess what I saw to Jess in person, because of how my patterns have damaged her. That felt like an important thing and I’m glad I had the chance to do it. I know of no context other than a separation that I could face the unhealthy ways I held my marriage, which is a mercy. My daily struggle is to sit in my fear and circumstances without trying to control outcomes, to recalibrate the Jess-ometer to a healthy place, and allow for compassion without betraying myself. I am called to work up the courage to do scary things when God asks me to and focus on walking with Him into my sinful heart.

Staying with My Pain

In my last post, I put words to an energy inside me that I was just starting to uncover. A deep-seated pride that causes me to take up the reins of my life and attempt to steer myself clear of pain, fear, and unfulfilled longing. Oftentimes this self-reliance looks like strategizing, positioning myself, and being unwilling to grieve. It is an attempt to escape my crushing insecurities, be seen by others, and dull my pain. It robs God of working in my life and the lives of others.

My strategies are tools I designed to avoid sitting in the agony of my pain. They keep me from experiencing God’s healing and building a genuine trust in Him. Naming that has been a huge breakthrough for me, but the real work is not in the naming, but in living with that knowledge afterward.

The opportunities to see that energy at work in my life have been countless. It is with me constantly. Paul talks about the law revealing covetousness to him in Romans 7:7-8. After it is named he immediately sees how rampant it is in his life. Do you want to know how many times I rehearsed for the first counseling appointment my wife and I had with a new clinician? Too many to count. I thought about how I want to come across in the session and the things I wanted to say. I thought about what the counselor might see and how I might position myself in the conversation. I would think along these lines when I felt fear or pain and have started to see these moments for what they are. Control. I have begun to simply say, “God, there it is again. Right now I don’t trust that you are working and see that I am trying to take control. That’s why I’m doing this right now.” This is one small example. My strategies come into play most during even the smallest interactions with Jess. A word choice, a tone, or a mood that I create.

The first few days of seeing this were excruciating because of how tightly my hope for my marriage was wrapped up in my strategies. As I began to lay down my methods for controlling my world instead of clutching at them, I was at the same moment feeling my hope die. The only thing I could do was writhe in agony and cry out. These were the most hopeless few days of my life, and I wept often. Releasing my strategies by naming them continues to be terrifying. It means I am left with the very feeling I was trying to escape from, hopelessness.

It was in that place of hopelessness that the Lord stirred my heart in an unmistakable way, something that caught me totally off guard. Strangely enough, I felt stirred in a way that doesn’t intersect with the way I see reality moving right now. But that’s okay. Instead of setting it up as a new idol I want to continue to acknowledge it and hold it loosely.

It’s also worth sharing that staying with my pain sometimes brings out anger and frustration towards God. At times I’ve pointed my finger at Him and accused Him of being cruel. It’s strange to admit that but He is big enough to handle it. That’s why He is God and I am not.

If a crisis goes on for long enough, it ceases to be a crisis and weaves its way into a new normal. There has been a weightiness to my new normal, and its heaviness can drain my strength without warning. Pain or shock can hit me out of nowhere and totally deflate me, even when my spirits seem up. That heaviness will need to be emptied with time, bravery, and by resisting the urge to numb my pain. I feel grief over things like long-term plans, preparing meals for four instead of five, navigating the holidays, and answering innocent questions from my five-year-old. I desire to protect the sacredness of the family unit that is now the kids and I. There is the grief of not feeling whole right now, but I still love creating for my people. For Christmas, we ate crab, snuggled in for a Christmas movie, and piled into the truck to look at Christmas lights. A dull pain has underlined everything, rising to the surface at times. It was hard to find the easy enjoyment of watching the kids open their stockings and gifts this year. It’s so sad to feel like a piece of me is missing. There is a depth to this pain that goes far beyond the visible gashes of the last few weeks.

Some Growth

It’s astounding, but during this separation, I have caught glimpses of a strength that seems to be forming in me. At times I hear its quietness even over the noise of my circumstances. “Maybe I will make it through this.” “Somehow this might be used for my good.” I’m seeing a stronger person peek through now and then, and it feels good. I’ve had a chance to be more in touch with what I want, and have seen more directness in the way I communicate. I’ve surprised myself by pushing conversations well past where I would have felt comfortable in the past, advocating for things I feel strongly about. I know more what I am about, and what I need to do to honor that. At times I’ve felt growing curiosity, surges in creativity, clearer long-term vision, and more intentional movement towards others. Somehow doing laundry has been less tedious, and the kids’ bedtime routine has felt more sacred. This energy ebbs and flows as I battle to sit in my circumstances and not scramble to change them. As I consistently wake up earlier than I ever have to meet with Jesus daily; to be fed by the Bread of Life rather than my own appetites and idols. I just read this tonight in one of my favorite books by George MacDonald. It resonated with me.

But who can tell what a nature may prove to be after feeding on good food for a while? The queen bee is only a better fed working bee. Who can tell what a soul may become when it has been plowed with the plow of suffering, when the rains of sorrow, the frosts of pain, and the winds of poverty have moistened and swelled and dried its fallow clods?

I will continue to try to stay with my pain, accept new circumstances, and follow the promptings of the growing strength inside me. I’ll also need to keep taking things one day at a time, allowing myself time to stand up after losing my feet. It happens often.

Sitting Right Here

My first three blog posts came out of me quickly and surprisingly. It caught me off guard how readily the words came out, as if they had been waiting there for a long time. It has been therapeutic to identify what I’ve been experiencing and helpful to dig deeper. I named my story, shared about my last few weeks, and finally explored what had come to light about myself. Where I sit now feels messy and uncomfortable, and everything in me grates against that. I never thought I would be navigating a separation with my wife, and am in many ways still trying to regain my footing. The landmarks in my life have rearranged themselves and I’m trying to leave behind the broken compass I’ve trusted for so long.

I am in the first stages of fighting something new. It was a huge step to identify the unhealthy ways I held my marriage, but living out something better is another story altogether. It’s something I need to sit in and experience. I have trained myself to think in a particular way for so long that I can’t trust my instincts right now. I see I need boundaries and space from my relationship with Jess. It is going to be a painfully slow process to break myself of the notion that the only way I will be ok is if I have somehow won her love, respect, or admiration.

Guarding

This week I’ve needed to guard myself vigorously and begin to allow the damage I’ve sustained to rise to the surface. I’ve needed quiet moments and patience with myself. I’ve needed to put scary words to my wounds and start to grieve that for what it is. Those things are hard in the midst of a busy life with three kids and a million distractions. But I found myself less interested in numbing the pain today and more interested in seeking a quiet place to sit and feel. I want to notice what is going inside myself and not be enslaved to it. I want to push in instead of leaning out.

A special shot of my late grandmother’s kitchen chair, a great place to sit and think.

There is a massive knot to untie inside me and so many emotions. So far the path is laborious, obscure, and full of false steps. I’ve fought immensely with anger and have needed to take life hour by hour, moment by moment. My time with the Lord in the mornings feels like a necessity in a way that it never has before. I need help to make it through the day and absolutely cannot think about tomorrow. It feels like a great effort to keep in touch with what honors my heart right now, to defend my boundaries, and to protect myself from more blows. I notice how tempted I am to betray myself. It’s shocking to see how willing I am to swallow poison in order to feel safe. I’ve taught myself to disregard my pain and immediately pursue any softness I feel towards Jess because I’ve always been convinced that softness is a dependable path back to security. I’m uncovering how I’ve laid down my plans, given up dreams, changed directions, taken on burdens, and swallowed my words in order to keep the boat from rocking. I was and still am willing to give up my soul at the drop of a hat. It’ll be a long process, but I’m finally starting to move out in a better direction.

Strategizing

I also see that I strategize. About everything. I feel safest when I can wrap my head around my circumstances, see a clear path forward, or cling to something solid. I do NOT do well sitting and simply existing in discomfort, fear, or pain. It sends me into a spin and makes me frantic. When my insecurities rise up, when my longings aren’t met, or when pain knocks the wind out of me, I begin to strategize to avoid pain. This is so new that I am still learning to recognize when I do it. There’s a feeling I’m starting to associate with it that has come over me especially strongly during this separation as I feel lonely or insecure. A desire for control. It’s the feeling of wanting to get my fingers into my situation and meddle with it. To fix it, run from it, or make it quieter.

I’m seeing now that this is ultimately self-reliance and an unwillingness to grieve. It has no other name than pride. A deep-seated, ugly pride that was hard for me to pin down or even identify. I was never ready to see it until now. All this time I have been invited by God to sit in my pain and allow him the opportunity to heal it, but I have never let him. Deep down I’ve thought I’ve known better than Him how to meet my longings, avoid pain, deliver truth, and make my life work.

My latest counseling session was different in the sense that I was ready to hear this for the first time. To trace it back through months and years and name it for what it is. It was quite a humbling thing, but I’m grateful for it. These words were given to me, and they hit as near the mark as possible. They are words from Henri J. M. Nouwen’s The Inner Voice of Love (emphasis mine):

Stay with Your Pain

When you experience the deep pain of loneliness, it is understandable that your thoughts go out to the person who was able to take that loneliness away, even if only for a moment. When, underneath all the praise and acclaim, you feel a huge absence that makes everything look useless, your heart wants only one thing –to be with the person who once was able to dispel these frightful emotions. But it is the absence itself, the emptiness within you, that you have to be willing to experience, not the one who could temporarily take it away.

It is not easy to stay in your loneliness. The temptation to nurse your pain or to escape into fantasies about people who will take it away. But when you acknowledge your loneliness in a safe, contained place, you make your pain available for God’s healing.

God does not want your loneliness; God wants to touch you in a way that permanently fulfills your deepest need. It is important that you dare to stay with your pain and allow it to be there. You have to own your loneliness and trust that it will not always be there. The pain you suffer now is meant to put you in touch with the place where you most need healing, your very heart. The person who was able to touch that place has revealed to you your pearl of great price.

It is understandable that everything you did, are doing, or plan to do seems completely meaningless compared with that pearl. That pearl is the experience of being fully loved. When you experience deep loneliness, you are willing to give up everything in exchange for healing. But no human being can heal that pain. Still, people will be sent to you to mediate God’s healing, and they will be able to offer you the deep sense of belonging that you desire and that gives meaning to all you do.

Dare to stay in your pain, and trust in God’s promise to you.

Sitting right here feels overwhelming and unsustainable, but I am gaining confidence that God has a bigger purpose in this separation. In my fragility, I have needed to hear his truths more than ever. He wants to build me up and strengthen me through during this time. I took comfort in Ephesians 4:14-15:

So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.