As we have all come to know more acutely this past Lenten season, pain and suffering exist everywhere in the world; pain is a fact of our existence and tends to permeate all of our lives to some degree. We feel sometimes that others are somehow exempt, that their lives are easier or less tragic, but this is simply untrue. Too, we all know someone who has allowed life’s challenges and heartache to sabotage their positive outlook or to keep them from living fully engaged in their life’s calling. We complain about suffering and seek to escape from it, yet since that very hurt is part of our experience (and often tied to relationships and events that have touched us most deeply) sometimes we cling to it and don’t want to release it. For some of us, it is frankly easier to hold our pain to ourselves, using it as a shield that protects us from others, giving us a “victim” identity, or in some way allowing us to tough it out by sheer force of our wounded will. We do these things, I suspect, because we feel singled out by the universe/God.
The truth is that pain is universal, and because this is so, we can choose to embrace the mystery of the cross to empower ourselves to use our own hurt to help others heal. Furthermore, all pain has this potential, so even when we cannot relate directly to another’s specific situation, we can nonetheless use our hurts to relate to others’ pain. We can help bring about the healing of individuals whose hurts are both similar to and vastly different from our own. We can choose to surrender our pain to Christ, uniting it with his suffering so that it, too, can be transformed into a healing love that will help us to help others, one person at a time, thereby spreading a cloak of healing Christ energy around the globe.
The capacity to heal others can only come about when we choose to disassociate ourselves from our victim identity. In fact, the simple decision to put aside the pain we ourselves carry, uniting it to Christ’s, is what grants us the strength to redeem that pain through service. There are many ways to use the hurt we feel to help others. Our pain gives us a unique insight into the minds of people who have experienced trauma and heartache. We can draw from that same wellspring of grace that allowed us to emerge on the other side of a painful experience and pass that grace to individuals still suffering from their wounds. We may be able to share our own coping methods that have helped us; other times we might be limited to offering sympathy and support. Regardless, the pain we all experience allows us an opportunity to connect more deeply with those around us.
Helping others can be a resurrection experience that helps our own faith to grow and our heart to be made whole. In channeling our pain into compassionate service and watching others successfully heal, we find our own healing enhanced and made more profoundly evident. Our courageous decision to reach out to others is one of the best ways to declare to ourselves and to the world that pain has not defeated us, rather, it has become the locus of new life.