pain relief not pain removal

kathyescobar advent & lent, incarnational, jesus is cool, synchroblog 23 Comments

pain relief not pain removal*this post is part of the christmas synchroblog centered on Jesus came: did you get what you expected?  i hope you all had a good christmas. ours was sweet & simple & really nice. i’ve been really unplugged all week and have enjoyed the quiet.

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for advent, i wrote a post about hoping to be open: present, humble, vulnerable this christmas season.  when i look back on it now, just over a month later, it makes me laugh.  vulnerable is definitely the right word for the past month; i think i cried every day for a couple of weeks during advent!  one of the hazards of this kind of living is when we risk our hearts, it will sometimes get trampled on.  it’s part of the cost.  and even though i’ve been in this place before and know the feeling, i can’t completely avoid the pain of feeling used and hurt, and doubting this is all worth it.

thankfully, the amazing Jesus-with-skin-on-people-in-my-life helped carry me through.

the past few weeks have felt a little more sane, a little more balanced, a little more clear.  but at the same time, just as relief came, a new overwhelming feeling arose–the amount of needs in every direction.  it’s nothing new, really, but maybe in my “open, present, vulnerable” season i felt it more.  or maybe it’s because the holidays bring extra pain & struggle & need to the surface. the degree of poverty & pain & loneliness all around was just extra intense and caused me to question so many things. i found myself asking:

“does what we do even matter?”

“why even bother when the systems around everyone are so deeply grooved toward inequity and oppression?”

 “maybe getting an inspiration high really will sustain people more than the little bit of tangible love we are able to pass on?” 

“why in the %(#&!^!*!(! do people keep giving their money to church buildings when their money could help exponentially with basics  like beds & dressers & gas & food & warm clothes to families who really need it?”

“God, you’ve got some people who really, really need hope right now.  can you please help?”

the last one is the one that lingered.  and i was reminded of what teresa of avila said:

“Christ has no body but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

even though Jesus came into the world as a human and knows our pain and suffering and promised us life would be hard & harsh but that in him, we could have hope & joy & peace & love in the midst, i often forget.

i think the trouble is i actually long for pain removal.  the absence of pain. the abracadabra kind of pain removal that some parts of my faith experience once promised.  pray harder, hope more, surrender more, and it will be “gone”.  i know better by now, i really do, but still, if i’m really honest, i keep wanting (and in weird crazy ways still expecting) pain removal.

what i got instead was a reminder that hope this side of heaven is about pain relief.

maybe that’s a piece of what the incarnation is about.  pain relief.

we can’t remove pain.  God doesn’t seem to remove pain, either.  in fact, he chose to enter directly into it to provide relief in the midst.  hope, healing, love, joy, mercy, peace.

and it most always seems to come through a weird combination of flesh & spirit.  

hope, mercy, and love don’t drop out of the sky.  they usually come from experience.  from interactions.  from real in-the-flesh relationships.  from presents that get delivered even though we know they won’t make one bit of difference next month.  from a hug that might be the only human touch someone receives all week.  from a kind word when harsh ones are usually the only ones heard.  from a hot meal around a messy kitchen table.  from simple hellos to long, drawn-out conversations about deep wounds.  from eyes meeting eyes and hearts meeting hearts.

these little things provide pain relief.

they won’t take away reality.  they won’t change systems that will keep working against people.  they won’t pay the bills next month.  they won’t immediately mend a broken heart or get someone a job or heal a chronic illness or reconcile a failed marriage.

but they will provide some pain relief, a cup of cold water, a healing balm, a sweet fragrance.

on christmas eve when we were singing o holy night (by far my favorite carol), i felt these words stir my soul:

“truly he taught us to love one another, his law is love and his gospel is peace. chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother. and in his name all oppression shall cease.”

i have been thinking of this since christmas eve.  i keep wanting big oppression to cease. i keep wanting all the chains to break that keep people stuck. i keep wanting freedom & comfort my way.  really, i keep wanting pain removal.

but i was reminded this season, yet again and again, how the small things make a difference.  that our hands and feet and hearts and eyes and ears matter.  that when we intersect with each other in love, chains break and oppression ceases, if even for that moment.  that Jesus is alive & well & moving & healing & transforming & revealing love in us and through us and with us. 

yeah, in all kinds of ways, i got some pain relief this christmas. thank you, God. i hope i was able to pass some on, too.

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