“Even in the darkness He’s beautiful. Even in the shadows He loves you still. What’s true in light, still true in the dark.” Rend Collective, “Weep with Me (Reprise)”
Pain is persistent, pulsating. Pain is enduring, relentless. I learned that my thought that I had a long unwanted journey before me was truer than I had understood. Pain toyed with me. Pain had this deceptive side to it.
When I was in the midst of pain, I had this feeling or sense that if I could just endure a little longer everything would be better. What I really felt deep down is that everything would go back to the way it was before. Endure, pass the test, and Kim would come back. I knew that was not true and was impossible. But that was how it felt. Pain on an unwanted journey is confusing.
Pain was toying with my heart.
I remember one vital lesson I learned: Don’t try to erase reminders or memories. Reminders of Kim are everywhere in my house and among my circle of friends. Every room and closet in my house; in fact, every shelf, drawer, and cupboard shouts her sweet name. And that’s just in my house.
Pain in loss is different than physical pain. God created us so that if we feel physical pain it acts as a warning. We touch something hot, feel pain, and we wince or shrink back. We pull away to avoid the damage that might be done to us.
It’s different with emotional pain. You must stay in it—press into the pain—in order to heal.
Inside my own mind are the memories we made across our thirty-five-and-a-half years of marriage. Add to that a couple years of dating and engagement. Memories fill my mind. I expect to see her around the corner or upon arrival home after a trip. My hand reaches for my cell phone only to remember she’s not going to answer even if I follow the impulse to call her.
Even so, you simply should not try to erase any reminder to avoid the pain. You should not erase any memory. Reminders and memories help you by bringing the pain to the forefront to help you embrace and process the grief.
Physically, we were created to pull away from pain; emotionally, we were created to press into the pain.
“The reality of life in a fallen world is that there are times when it is good for us to endure pain and bad for us to avoid it.” Heath Lambert, The Great Love of God
Once after I drove away from Durham after visiting my son, Paul, and his family, I was overcome by excruciating pain. We had simply taken pictures on Easter Sunday. But the pain it initiated was intense. I wasn’t supposed to be kneeling alone with two adorable grandsons for a photo. I wept as I drove north on the interstate as I headed back to Richmond. At one point I cried out, “I just want this pain to end!”
But that’s when I realized something: No, I don’t want the pain to end. I need the pain to process the grief. Pain has a good place. A good part to play. The pain reminds me of what I had when I had Kim as my wife, my companion. If the pain were to end so quickly and so easily, it would be as if I had not lost much at all. Another way to say it: If I easily skirt the full weight of pain and skip the process of mourning, I devalue the very institution of marriage, generally, and my own marriage, specifically. Pain must be valued for the part it would play in helping me remember and value my marriage.
In that light, pain became somehow beautiful and meaningful to me. Could I be steadfast and find joy in the good place of pain?
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4