Sometimes We All Have Pain

It’s a classic song from my high school days.  I’m surprised how often I find the song playing as background music in my mind.  It was in 1972 that singer-song writer Bill Withers released this soulful tune:

“Sometimes in our lives we all have pain
We all have sorrow …”

Generally, we recognize that difficult times come in life, but our day to day experience pretty much ignores this reality.  We experience life as being generally okay.  We’re happy enough and get along well enough with others.  Then, something happens: we all have pain and sorrow.

Nearly three millennia ago in what we know today as Nepal, Siddhartha Gautama, came to the understanding that the world is full of sorrow.  His enlightenment was the result of understanding how to overcome the experience of sorrow in life, thus becoming the Buddha.  But most of us never quite understand the role of sorrow in our lives. It’s something we struggle to get through, hoping that things will return to the way they were before.  But that doesn’t quite happen.  Pain and suffering changes us.  For some it’s an opportunity for growth, for a kind of transformation. For others, it’s an experience that leads to resentment and bitterness.

Biblical scholar, Walter Brueggemann, explains that the Book of Psalms presents a paradigm of how people can move through the painful, difficult times of life toward the experience of transformation.  In his book, Praying the Psalms, Brueggemann notes that the Psalms can be organized into three different movements of life experience:  a secure orientation; a painful disorientation; a surprising reorientation.  These three movements are not only a way to characterize the Psalms but they also serve to describe our experience through pain and suffering.

In our day to day lives, our orientation to relationships, family, work, and the other aspects of life is secure.  Generally, things are good … or at least good enough.  But something occurs that’s painful and disorients us:  the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, a diagnosis of an illness, or some sort of insecurity rises us and takes over our mind.  The way in which we understood ourselves and our lives just doesn’t fit any longer.  We struggle against it and try to return to our previous “secure orientation.”  But that doesn’t work.

What are we to do?  It’s at this time that the admonition of the Buddha is critical:  we need to face that the world, our world, is full of sorrow.  Like those in twelve-step programs know so well, we are powerless to change our situation.  Instead, we need to release of need to control, accept what is and allow the way forward to present itself.

Saying this doesn’t mean we allow ourselves to become victims to whatever befalls us.  Instead, we need to let go of what we held so securely and accept that something has changed.  It is only with this acceptance can we begin to allow a surprising reorientation to occur.

The reorientation doesn’t mean that everything is better than it was before.  What it means is that we are able to find something good out of the change we’ve experienced.

For decades, I worked with people with serious illnesses, both long term chronic illnesses and terminal illnesses.  As people moved through the painful disorientation of their diagnosis and treatment, I often heard them say, “This was the best thing that ever happened to me.”  They didn’t say that as a denial of their condition or of the hardship they experienced.  Instead, their illness allowed them to examine life in a different way and to find something meaningful that they had not found in the past.  Does this happen for everyone?  No.  But this process of transformation does happen, particularly when people stop struggling against the serious life change and accept that even with a serious illness, life can be good for them.  That’s the surprising reorientation.

Bill Withers was right in many ways:  we all have pain.  But if we’re wise, we’ll know that there’s always tomorrow.  That tomorrow can be an opportunity when we open ourselves to the possibility of change in the midst of pain and allow others to carry the burden with us.

Photo credit: Foter.com

© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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