Imagine, for a moment, a toddler whose fingers are roaming the countertops, unknowingly headed straight for the stove. His mother looks away for only a second, unable to intercept the wandering, chubby fingers of her little one before his hand meets the red hot eye of the burner. He bellows out in pain and confusion. He wasn’t trying to find pain, but in the most troubling, disorienting, shocking, breath-taking way, pain found him; and the desire for relief was desperate. The toddler vows in that moment to never touch a stove. Like this toddler, I imagine it’s familiar to all of us to avoid pain when it finds us.
Allow me to invite you into some examples.
You are in the third grade. You are innocently and unselfconsciously playing and some eight year old kid turns to you and says “why are you so fat?”.
Singeing pain pulsing through every nerve in your body.
The tears begin to burn your eyes, but you don’t want him to see you cry. Instead, you make a vow to yourself in that moment (consciously or unconsciously), “I will never feel that pain again.” Now you are 10 years into a complex eating disorder-never having dealt with the original pain but doing all that you can to avoid feeling that kind of humiliation again.
Let’s imagine a different scenario. You are a little boy playing outside as little kids do. You fall and scrape your knee. You run to your father for comfort-for him to pick you up, hug you and tend to your pain. As soon as you reach for him, he sternly stops you in your tracks, holding his hand against your chest. With furrowed brows he says: “NO! Dust it off. Real men don’t cry.”
How STUPID of you to cry, to need a hug or want comfort. You decide in that moment “I never want to feel that pain of rejection again. I will never cry or ask for help.”
I hear countless stories just like these almost every day. I myself have experienced pain and the accompanying vows. Unfortunately, many of us spend our lives running away from this kind of pain. The vow we once made for protection becomes the haunting force that drives our life. And in that moment, a part of us dies.
But what if there is a way to resurrect these dead parts of ourselves.
Adam Young, a Colorado based therapist, discusses how healing happens in a podcast episode (The Place We Find Ourselves: How Healing Happens, Episode 24):
He explains “One prerequisite to healing and growth is engaging the emotions and bodily sensations that arise as you ponder and reflect on some of the most painful stories of your life. Indeed, to feel these feelings will be like experiencing a sort of death. And I don’t know how you engage the most painful stories of your life without a part of you dying. So why in the world would anyone do this?”
Why in the WORLD would anyone intentionally revisit a story of pain?
He goes on to explain that we can have courage to enter the pain in our stories because of what we see in Jesus’ own death, burial and resurrection. Let’s unpack that just a bit. Young introduces a diagram by Cathy Loerzel called the “U-Diagram” which uses the story of Easter to consider the process of healing.
Revisiting the trauma is going back to the point at which pain happens. However, many of us try to jump the “U” straight from Trauma to Joy. The vows we make are often an attempt to shortcut the healing process. We think the diet or the perfectionism or whatever “answer” we come up with to deal with our pain will be what brings us back to joy. Unfortunately, the exact opposite often happens. We become less alive-less human-when we cut ourselves off from pain. Going back to the little boy and the stove: the little boy might not just avoid the stove-he might decide that the entire kitchen is dangerous, therefore he may never experience the life, joy, color, aroma and taste that can come out of the kitchen.
True joy happens when we are courageous enough to follow Jesus into his death. There are a lot of theological perspectives here but many Christians believe that Jesus himself descended into hell. He experienced the worst pain possible-total separation from his Father. There was no hope of resurrection on Saturday. Only dark, lifeless, deafening death. To follow Jesus into his death and burial means to allow ourselves to engage the places where we felt lost, scared, alone, afraid, ashamed, and we didn’t have the assurance that it would all be “okay.”
Only after descending into hell was Jesus resurrected and true joy restored. Likewise, I believe one of the primary ways to restore the lost, broken, and wounded parts of our souls is to follow Jesus into the pain of his death by revisiting our pain, knowing He holds resurrection life in His hands. True resurrection doesn’t negate the pain of our stories-it is an invitation to become fully alive. Part of being alive is feeling the full spectrum of joy and sorrow. When we are fully alive to ourselves, we are fully alive to God and others. Resurrection means to become more human, more of who God created us to be, not less.
How might we begin the process of revisiting our pain? First, you may decide that you want to do this with a trusted counselor. Or maybe you have a community of friends. One of the best ways I personally know how to journey with people from trauma, hell and back to joy is a type of therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR-https://www.emdria.org). As we see in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, God’s heart is always for restoration and healing. I am amazed at all the ways we continue to learn how to lead people into more of who God created them to be.
May you find courage this Easter to follow Jesus into his pain, death and ultimately resurrection.