Pain Collectors

“That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.”
– John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

We all have it. Sometimes it’s public. Sometimes it’s private. Some people deny it. Others shine it. One day you give. The other receive. Pain lives on the edges of our picture frames and in the crevices of our dusty bookshelves. It’s old, it’s new, it’s a moment, it’s forever.

Pain is inevitable.

It isn’t something that graciously passes some people by while eviscerating everyone else. Sure there are varying levels and varying situations, but pain is pain. No matter the trigger behind it. Let me repeat: pain is pain.  

 
The internet can be such a wonderful tool. It has so many useful purposes, outlets, and connections. It can bring complete strangers together and form incredible bonds of friendship based solely on the mutual love of reading. It can raise support for children fighting cancer. It can help a family devastated by a natural disaster. It can heal.

But it can also kill. And it doesn’t kill quietly. It rages war.

I’m very cautious in using the internet to share the really delicate parts of me. The ones that need to be handled with care because I’m afraid of being shut down. I share them with the people I know and trust in the flesh who will love on me and remind me that whatever I’m going through is important. It’s important because I’m important. And it doesn’t need to be compared to someone else’s pain. Because pain is pain. 

But some of us have a problem with collecting it.

We go through something tragic, something monumental and it changes us. Pain changes us. And that’s ok. Change is good. Pain can ultimately be good. It grows us. Shapes up. And usually allows us to understand the pain of others with a greater sense of intimacy and delicacy.

But somewhere, in all of that tragedy, we’ve started to collect our pain–a row of gold statues that we shine, dust, rearrange so they are just perfect, and stare at for hours on end. We place our pain on the best shelf, with the best view, so everyone can see it. But not because we want you to journey with us through our pain but because we want to say,

“Mine. Mine. Mine. My collection is bigger and better and more painful than your own.”

And it’s not. The only real truth about pain is that it’s different. Yes, there might be a distinct level of minor pain vs major pain when we talk about the physical body, but I’m not trying to compare a paper cut to brain surgery. I’m talking about life pain. The whole of our days. The sum of our years. The pain we carry in our souls–emotional, yes– but it can be physical, too.

I was reading a blog post the other day by a dear friend of mine who is finally seeing the light at the end of a very dark tunnel. Months and months of pain that have finally led her to a new journey of restoration. I ventured into the comments section to read about the women who had been encouraged by what she wrote and to be filled with their hope. And that’s when I found a pain collector.

Now, I don’t believe this person meant any harm in her comment. I truly believe she too just wants her pain to be acknowledged. For someone to come alongside her and hold her. Validate her. Tell her, “Yes, yes. I hear you. This is hard stuff. This is painful. I’ll help you.” But the delivery of that pain translated into–my pain is worse than yours.

The situation looked like this… A woman was lamenting about the struggle she’s had in mothering–trying to keep her head above water while being surrounded by her ocean of littles. And then came a response comment from another woman… Try being a single parent. It doesn’t get harder than doing it on your own.

Do you see where I am going with this? That mother of littles can’t try being a single mother. She isn’t one. All she knows is that her days are hard according to what she’s accustomed to handling. You know who steps in after that single mom comment if we keep collecting our pain instead of learning from it?

The mom with no kids.
The mom with infertility.
The mom who isn’t a mom, but prays, wishes, and dreams about it every single moment of her existence.

And then you know who steps in after the mom with no kids? The single woman in her thirties who is home alone on a Friday night because she’s tired of the bar scene. She’s tired of e-harmony never panning out. She’s tired of putting herself out there to only discover she can’t find someone to share her forever with. She’s tired, but her exhaustion isn’t from a house full of kids and a husband who is disgruntled from work. So is her pain any less valuable? Is her loneliness any less important?

We’ve all collected our own pain. We’ve all made these comments where we try and one up someone’s situation because we think our own is worse. And it’s not. No matter the situation your pain is not worse than someone else’s. It’s just different. Pain is pain.

We need to start thinking before we speak. Question our words and the intentions behind them before assuming that what we’ve got going on is more painful than someone else. If pain demands to be felt than it also demands to be processed. Everyone deserves to feel what they are going through and to share that with those they love.

We need to stop collecting the pain and start learning from it. Pain is constant. Allow the world around you to feel it. Allow yourself to feel it. And in that process help each other to heal. Don’t slap the pain of someone else with your own.

An adult who loses a parent should be loved upon and allowed to grieve as if still a child.
A mother of one should be supported in her trials as much as the mother of five.
A child with a drunk father should be fretted upon as the child with none.

Pain is pain. And all pain demands to be felt.

 

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Moments

My grandmother has buried two children. The first, my Uncle Ricky, when he was just a baby passed away from SIDS. No rhyme or reason. The second, my Aunt Tammy, passed away on Mother’s Day which was also her fiftieth birthday from an autoimmune disease. I’ve never asked my Grandma which was more painful. I’d venture to say there was an equal form of hell present in each situation. And where having children causes your heart to multiply in size, the loss of a child causes permanent removal. A hole in your heart–bloody, gaping, seeping, never healing.

Of course, this is all speculation being that I haven’t ever lost a child of my own. And I don’t plan on it. That’s the sick concept of losing a child. Death is certain. For all of us. No matter how much money you have or how healthy you live we will all die. There’s no argument. But, logically, death comes with an order of expectations. Children should and are expected to outlive their parents. Unfortunately, we live in a world of infinite possibilities–not for just riches and fame and decadence, but for pain, anger, and brokeness. This is reality.

For everyone.

I hosted a baby shower a few months ago for a close girlfriend of mine and during an intimate portion of the festivities we all shared little bits of advice and or encouragement for her. When it got to me I felt compelled to be honest. Honesty veiled with a bit of morbid truth. And this is what I said:

There will be moments where you will regret your decision to have children. Moments where you will question your sanity in the chaos. Moments where you will say, “WHY THE %^&(! DID I DO THIS TO MYSELF?” But the beauty of motherhood is that these are moments. Some moments may last a few seconds, others a few days, and if you’re unfortunate enough to experience postpartum depression, then potentially months of moments. But, like all moments, they fade and as your children grow your love for them does as well. And when you are in the heat of these moments, when you find yourself awake every hour with a puking child, or in a bathroom of steam trying to heal croup or up at 3am with a teething, crying, fussy, inconsolable mess–I want you to stop. I want you to stop stressing, stop the anger, stop the fear, and the frustration of not sleeping and remember this:

Your child is alive. Breathing. Beating. Screaming. Alive. And even though it’s hard, even though it’s exhausting, even though you want to throw in the towel and quit–they will live to see another day and so will you.

There are no guarantees in life. No matter your status or position we have no guarantee that we will get another moment. Another hug. Kiss. Smile. Or its opposite. Another chance to calm a screaming child. Soothe a teething baby. Reason with an emotional teenager.

It’s all a gamble.

And yet we allow ourselves to be burdened, torn down, and emotionally overwhelmed with the moments. The moments that are out of our control and can only be resolved with the quiet allowance and assurance that time will pass. That you will get from one moment to the next and hope that so many of the moments will be filled with love, peace, joy, grace, and freedom. Freedom from the overwhelming sense of all these burdens that encompass life in general.

But I want you to think about the parents who have had the insurmountable task of burying a child. Think about that hole in their heart. The bloody, gaping, seeping, never healing wound that they will now have to accept and ask yourself which you would prefer: The moments or the hole?

Find joy, my friends. Even when it seems lost, continue searching. And to everyone who has lost a child, my heart goes out to you. You will carry a burden far greater than I could ever imagine. A burden only God Himself could understand.