Speaking of Pain & Waiting

Editor’s Note: The following essay presents meditations from Taras Dyatlik that he originally posted as bite-sized pieces on Facebook in January and February 2021. A Ukrainian with long experience in the eastern area now occupied by Russia, Taras knows firsthand about pain. He has lost family and friends to violence yet rejects the bitterness that so often flows from such experiences. Instead, he acknowledges it and invites the Spirit to dwell in him. Taras also shares a word from his Ukrainian experience that fits our political moment: prophetic voices do not humiliate others but are grounded in love, even for those with whom we disagree. As we look forward to celebrating Christ’s resurrection this Easter, may this meditation on wrestling with God during times of personal and national pain encourage and challenge us.

We often strive to expand our knowledge of God via theological studies and religious exercises. Yet we can also use these pursuits to sublimate our inner pain. Thus, we don’t pay enough attention to the fact that God wants to transform our inner world by filling it with Himself.

Unacknowledged pain keeps the Holy Spirit from filling us. Pain is not a sin. But it leads us to be disappointed by others, by life, even by Christ Himself. Unless we overcome pain by acknowledging it, naming it, we become slaves to it.

Pain impacts not just our souls but our relationships. We may hurt one another not so much by active sin as by our deep, unhealed pain. When my dog Patrick was dying in my arms, looking helplessly into my eyes, he bit my right wrist deeply. His pain hurt me. My wrist bled for a long time and took several months to heal. In the same way, unacknowledged and unhealed pain destroys our personality. It encourages us to react aggressively to anyone who touches our wounds. It determines the purpose of our life, distracting us from pursuing God’s calling. It replaces real memories with selective memories of who and what caused our suffering. While in pain, I hear two crucial questions from the Lord: “Where are you, Adam?” and “Why are you weeping, Mary?”

A square in Ukraine. Credit: Maksym Tymchyk on Unsplash.

God’s Answer to Our Pain

We are forgiven out of love and pain – God’s love and pain. It is God who first walked into the garden in the evening and called, “Adam, where are you?” It is God who first said to Cain, ′′If you are doing what is good, shouldn’t you hold your head high?” It is God who first revealed to Noah, “I am going to destroy all flesh, for they fill the earth with violence. Build yourself an ark.”

It is God who first came to Zachariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph. It is God who first greeted the shepherds through His angels, “Glory to God in the highest! Peace on earth! Favor with humankind!”

And it is God who was the first to walk the earth in a resurrected body, greeting Mary and meeting her pain: “Why are you weeping? I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Easter reminds us that the Son of God became the Lord of all external and internal life.

The first question of the Lord to a man is, “Where are you?” And the first question of the resurrected Lord to a woman is, “Why are you weeping?” Are we willing to answer these questions to reveal our pain to Him? Acceptance of His love heals us.

Pain & Waiting

God transforms us so that we no longer tear ourselves apart with unacknowledged heartache. He fills our inner world with new memories from healing, loving, and forgiving relationships with Him and with others.

Just as God took the first step toward us, so in our relationships with others, the first step is always taken by a more mature person who has overcome his pain and is ready to recognize the other person’s pain through God’s love.

But taking the first step may take time, a lot of time. Having matured by the Spirit, we wait for that time when the other person allows us to recognize and accept their pain to overcome it with new memories of love and trust.

This pandemic has taught us about waiting. We can redeem our pain from this season of waiting by practicing the lesson of patience we have learned, by opening time for forgiveness.

Joseph waited for years as a slave in Potiphar’s house and in jail. He used that lesson of patience, learned through pain, to wait until he saw his brothers coming to him. He didn’t address his pain at the very first meeting with them. However, after many months, at the appropriate time, he said, “Don’t be grieved or angry with yourselves that you sold me, for God sent me before you to preserve life.”

God forged Joseph’s character in pain and waiting. Joseph managed to wait for the God-given time and place to speak to his brothers, to care for them, to save their lives and the lives of millions of others in Egypt. He could see beyond his pain and recognize what the Lord was doing in his life and through him in Egypt.

This journey of healing begins with restoring husband-wife relationships, child-parent relationships, sibling relationships. It touches political relationships as well. I have heard many Christians complaining about politicians, the Church, and society during the past year. Many seem to think of this grumbling as a kind of prophetic voice.

Unfortunately, such murmuring often becomes mockery of the other person. It grows louder as people pursue “likes” or subscribers, assuming that more “views” mean more truth. Yet humiliating others has nothing to do with prophetic voice. Instead, these murmurings sound like odes to nihilism. They treat those with different points of view as meaningless.

Prophetic voices have their source in Christ’s healing love, not in hatred. Hatred brings more pain into our own and others’ lives. We can hope that God will restore our individual, political, social, and Church relationships through this pandemic. As God matures our character through pain, including the pain of waiting, we learn about His healing love. And we can open that forgiveness to others because, like Joseph, we can learn to see beyond pain to what God is doing in us and through us.

Kyiv, Ukraine. Credit: Rostislav Artov on Unsplash.

Pain & Wrestling

Many years before Joseph spoke to his brothers, his father Jacob stood next to a stream. He was alone. He had sent his family and possessions away to deflect the fury of an oncoming army led by his brother. Now, he only saw night’s darkness. He felt lonely and scared.

Someone came to Jacob and attacked him in the darkness.

Jacob almost seemed to overcome his attacker. But with one touch from God’s finger, Jacob was vanquished. How powerless we are even in our apparent moments of triumph, and how powerful God is in His apparent moments of loss. When we are left alone, suspended between the past and the future, waiting with pain, we gradually turn our focus to the One who is not in our power. We cannot control Him; we cannot command Him what to do in our lives.

Jacob’s loneliness reminds us that although we may think we are in control, we control nothing. We are disarmed, powerless, broken, defeated by His touch. And at that very moment, with Jacob, we shout, “I will not let You go until You bless me!”

Sometimes, after years of following Jesus, even if we have matured, we continue to challenge Him deep down because of our unacknowledged and unhealed pain. It breaks from within us, leading us to hurt others. Yet we fear to entrust it to our Comforter. In such a situation, we are separated from Him not because of our sin but because of our unrecognized pain.

Why do we sometimes continue to fight God, challenging Him? Why do we sometimes compete with Him all alone in the darkness where no one can see? Why do we try to level all the strength of our spiritual prosperity and success against Him?

God does not always reveal His intentions to us here and now. This is why we learn to wait every day. Not in the past, not in the future, but in the present.

So perhaps it’s for the best that we’re sometimes left alone, waiting, feeling complete loneliness in the face of the Unknown. Maybe we cannot appreciate God’s blessing unless He strikes us and humbles us in the darkness of our soul.

I ask only one thing in this darkness: “Father, bless me. Don’t let me cross this stream from one stage of life to the next without Your blessing. You act in love, Father. Although You have struck me and lamed me, I still trust You, wounded and humbled as I am. Give me enough strength in my pain to answer Your questions, ‘Where are you?’ and ‘Why are you weeping?’ Help my unbelief until Your dawn comes, as it came upon the faces of the women at the empty tomb.”

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