I’m not a masochist. Really, I’m not.
I know what I wrote in Pain is Your Friend, but I don’t go looking for opportunities to suffer. Well, there was that time I agreed to go on a church men’s retreat, but Jesus made me do it.
Here’s the thing, the worst pain in my life has come from my efforts to ignore the pain that was already there. Pass the pipe, pour me another drink, just don’t let me feel the maddening pull of the black hole in my heart. The misery is new every morning, with a dollop of shame on top.
We’ve Gone Crazy
Of course we don’t want to suffer, but we’re driving ourselves nuts trying to avoid the reality of living in a broken world.
Look at the news. Something bad happens and the next story is always about what should have been done to stop it. People are fired, leaders are voted out and law after law is passed, as if all that will protect us next time. If the plane is going down in a fireball, the seatbelt isn’t going to help, but it makes us feel better… until we crash and burn.
Throw religion in the mix and we enlist God in the cover-up. We tell ourselves, “Surely he wants us to scrub the world clean of sin,” but utopian idealism makes utopias impossible. The impure, those who don’t measure up to the utopian ideals, eventually must be cleansed from the ranks through dystopian violence. The only ones who survive are those who fake it better than the rest, otherwise they’d have to kick themselves out.
As Steve Brown says, “The reason we’re so bad is we’re trying so hard to be good.”
We’ve become addicted, distracted and delusional… self-righteous too.
Time To Sober Up
The truth is, we are not perfectible. Our spouses are not perfectible. Our children are not perfectible. Our churches are not perfectible, and the world is not perfectible. It hurts to finally admit that we don’t have what it takes, but we have to become conscious of our darkness if we want to see the light.
“There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own Soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
– Carl Jung
Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). What does that mean? How does that work out practically?
In my post, Drunk Believers, I talked about the thirst-quenching union with God that’s ours through faith. His Spirit within us is the clean, living water of ultimate reality bubbling up in the muck of day-to-day life. Jesus has overcome the world through his death and resurrection, and he’s slowly, almost imperceptibly, redeeming everything. His Spirit is washing away the lesser spirits to which we’re addicted.
Living sober means embracing the reality of the inescapable pain that’s in our lives in the light of our unbreakable union with God.
So, back to the dirt-under-our-fingernails examples of how we can redeem the pain. In my last post I talked about how welcoming the reality of our pain can be a catalyst for compassion. It can also give birth to the creative expression of the Spirit.
Julie Burstein is a fellow radio producer who has spent her career interviewing a lot of very creative people. She’s also the author of Spark: How Creativity Works.
One of the most important things Julie has learned about creativity is this:
“For creativity to flourish [requires] the embrace of loss, the oldest and most constant of human experiences ... The story that we all live [is] the cycle of creation and destruction, of control and letting go, of picking up the pieces and making something new.”
– Julie Burstein, Ted Talk: 4 Lessons in Creativity
The best artists expose the festering boil of their lives, and then, with the skill of a surgeon, they cut it open and express the infection for the world to see. When that happens, we stand in awe at their honesty and bravery. Our unexpressed pain aches with the truth of the human experience we’re witnessing. If only for an evening, or a moment, we know that we are not alone in our suffering… and that makes all the difference.
Life is brutal. Nobody makes it out unscathed. Everybody gets hurt. Everyone has scars. It’s how you deal with pain in life that matters. The artist creates something beautiful from brutality, thereby redeeming the pain.
The Spirit is the ultimate artist, picking up the broken pieces of our lives and making something new. Sobriety is living open to the creative expression of the divine in our lives. As I wrote before, it’s scary. We have to name all that we’ve lost, mourn and ultimately accept that it’s gone. We have to trust the cycle of destruction and creation, let go and hope for redemption. We have to face the fear that relief may never come, and then choose to trust the Spirit.
Sing the Blues
One of my least favorite things on the planet is a happy-clappy pep rally church service. God forbid anyone on stage spills their guts while their guitar weeps over the hell they made of their lives. No, they’re too self-conscious. They’re too busy selling a phony bill of goods. That prevents the creation of anything that really resonates with the ham-and-eggers who are looking for a shred of hope in a brutal world.
Give me the blues any day.
“We’ve come from the same history – 2000 years of persecution – we’ve just expressed our sufferings differently. Blacks developed the blues. Jews complained, we just never thought of putting it to music.”
– Jon Stewart
What have you lost? Your childhood? Your innocence? Your health? A relationship with your father or mother? Your faith? A child?
It can all be put to music.
The call to sobriety is the call to accept the reality that what you lost is gone, never to return as it once was, and express the pain of that loss to the Spirit. Wail, yell and scream. Let it all out and then listen.
In the silence, you will hear a still small voice… “You are not alone. Look at the Incarnation. See how I didn't leave humanity alone in its suffering? I chose to suffer as you do. I was betrayed and murdered. A Father lost his Son that day. But it didn't end there. I redeemed the pain and brought life from death, the breath of the Spirit to all who choose to rise from the dead.”
While all that we lost will never return as it was, the loss can be redeemed. Trust me, I know it hurts, but God delights in working all things together for good. Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before him. He did it to see the tears running down your smiling face when you finally encounter the staggering beauty of what he made out of your mess.
When we invite that creative expression of the Spirit in and through our lives, it frees us to give voice to our pain, thereby encouraging others. It’s very much like becoming more compassionate by receiving compassion.
As you get honest about your suffering, over and over again, you will hear people say, “You too?” The Spirit will whisper to them through your incarnation, “You are not alone.”
You can either complain or create. You’re going to suffer. Why waste it? Start singing the blues.
Read the next post in this series, The Gift of Addiction.