One of my favorite essays I’ve ever read was Brian Keene’s Bleed With Me. It was about what artists have to do for the sake of their art, which is essentially to bleed for others. Our pain, our hearts, our souls laid bare in order to convey the truth of art. Put another way, it is the vulnerability and transparency of the artist that is the source for the best art experience.
Admittedly, there are varying levels of transparency. Sometimes the emotional truth is easier to get to through the distance of fiction. Even on my blog, it’s still fairly safe, after all, it is my platform with moderated comments (though that doesn’t stop the occasional troll). Encountering people in the real world is an entirely different matter because be it blog or story, once it’s sent off, it’s in the hands of the readers for them to experience as they will.
Transparency is a learned skill. People might be born open, but we learn to protect ourselves, to shut people out, and build walls. Personally, I’ve been blessed to have a half dozen pastors who get in my face, hold me to account, and walk with me (not engage in CYA meetings to say they have checked in). I am also in a recovery program. And let me tell you, I’ve had to confess that I suck at transparency. In fact, I’m convinced that I need an introductory program of steps to make it to the first 12, just to get me to the sharing part.
As much as we may sometimes want to, we can’t live alone. We have blind spots. We’re biased to our own stories, positively and negatively. Live life outside of our paradigm. People who grow up abused may consider that the norm until they develop relationships with people outside their experience. We live from a place of fear, wanting to protect ourselves from pain. For many, that means suppressing emotions or otherwise leading a flat emotional life. We have a distrust emotions, for some it’s a Charismatic paranoia, afraid of letting emotions sweep us away as a part of the faith experience. Step outside of our mindset of how people ought to behave and deal with how they do, meet them where they are.
So how do we begin to access our heart? How do we begin ending that awkward dance of disconnectedness? We long to feel close to another, be it intimacy with God or simply a connection with others, yet live in the shadows of not knowing what to share, or fear over-sharing and chasing people away. It’s funny, some people need conflict to access their hearts while others are so conflict averse, they find it easier to walk away from relationships. We have to come to a place where we learn how to listen and know ourselves. Sometimes we’re so numb we have to begin by praying to have our hearts woken up, to have the fear broken, and be released to be the real you. And that’s risky: people may not like the real you. Start with what you know. The power of confession is admitting our failings. There is a power to putting our feelings to words through prayer, sharing our stories of woundedness, and finding healing as we push one another forward.
Moving forward is the key. Some people become stuck and need help to not suffer needlessly for the wrong reasons. Some days it hurts more than others and people cry out. For some, in the superficial sharing, pain can become romanticized, An openness about woundedness brings with it the danger of exhibitionism—an emotional Munchausen syndrome—as if the superficial sharing is the end of the process. While people don’t need to be categorized as being drama queens seeking attention, open wounds don’t heal, so we can’t stop with just airing problems.
Sometimes a person in pain can’t recognize their hurt and nor diagnose a treatment. All they know is that it hurts. We’re all afraid of the pain, none of us wanting it in our lives. We want it to be fixed, ended, to be made better and while we wish we could go back to the way things were or snap our fingers and make everything better, it is a process. One which requires time. The proper community plays a role in this process. Cries for help are met with care, compassion, understanding, forgiveness, fellowship, and in all things, love; all the things that make and should characterize a community. Shared pain stops being paralyzing. In the sharing and bearing, community is build as they carry one another in shared hope, in their common search for Christ.
Learning to stand and walk (not hide) midst of pain and misunderstandings involves allowing the opportunity for people to speak into your life, to walk beside you, to break through our fears and loneliness. To allow others to know what’s going on and pray for you. For those with similar stories to find you and lead you. It allows community to spring up in a time of need and do its job and in so doing the community acts as witnesses and agents of grace and love and peace.
Wounded stories become opportunities in peoples lives. Moments of confession, to reflect on and live out our faith, and to build community if we’re bold enough to wade into another’s pain and story. To do so means we have to move outside of our own preoccupations and agendas and needs and worries. It means a withdrawal of self to allow room for another. It may mean allowing them room to vent, cry, be angry, be silent, rest; in short, to be a safe place.
While we have to move forward in our pain, wholeness can’t be given from one to another. Not a friend, not a romantic interest, not a well-intended seminarian, but only through the blood of Christ. It means washing our own wounds and past, giving them up and letting go of them. It means finding forgiveness, for ourselves as well as others. In so doing, our wounds become occasions for new visions. In our weakness we have a reminder that we can’t do it alone, that we have to move forward while clinging to God’s promises. We need to let the light of His amazing love work through us, holding us together, holding marriages together, dispelling the lies of isolation and abandonment.
We need to know and own our own pain, our own story. Being authentic, raw, and vulnerable is risky. Being a wounded healer means allowing others to enter our lives, connecting their story with yours … without having any idea where this will lead or what it will look like. We can only hope that life on the other side of the journey to wholeness—the journey our of our dark places—will be a much better place.