I suspect the desire to avoid pain is one of the most universal human traits. It’s the reason we don’t like dentists or vaccines. It’s written all over our faces as we walk across parking lots or down streets in mid-winter, braced against the biting wind and the chill that sinks into our bones. It’s the reason we don’t know what to say to someone who is grieving a significant loss in his or her life. We don’t know what to say or do because, to know, we would have to allow ourselves to enter into that same painful setting, and that is not something we are willing to do voluntarily.
The avoidance of suffering is one of the main tenets of Buddhism, which teaches its followers the way to overcome desires and, as a result, to reduce suffering. In Christianity, however, Jesus modeled suffering, which we, his followers, understand to be a time of spiritual growth and transformation for us.
Still, Christians, like most humans, prefer to avoid suffering. Even in the ultra-important story of Holy Week, we tend to skip quickly over the crucifixion so that we can celebrate the resurrection. The death of Jesus is painful to retell and, since we know what happened early Sunday morning, it isn’t something we allow ourselves to experience as grief. But we should.
I think it’s safe to say that, generally speaking, people who won’t dwell on the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and death also don’t allow themselves to experience the process of grief fully in life. It is extremely frightening to feel so hurt, so abandoned, so angry, so confused, so out of control as we might feel when a loved one dies. It is also extremely unhealthy not to allow yourself to process those inevitable feelings – whether it’s the loss of someone through death or some other significant loss. Culturally, we do not embrace physical, emotional demonstrations of grieving. Sometimes, however, whether publicly or privately, these expressions are not only appropriate, but are quite healthy.
Today represents the day between Good Friday and Resurrection Day in Holy Week. It is the darkest day. There are no signs of life. There is no sense of hope. Anywhere. There are only questions and doubts and anger and fear.
If we allow ourselves to sit with the emotions produced here, we also allow ourselves to make connections to painful life experiences and unresolved grief. A profound truth taught to me by my counseling professor, Dr. Mac Wallace, came with one simple sentence: “Pain, buried alive, never dies.” If we acknowledge the painful things in our past – name them and allow the feelings they produce to affect us – then we begin to move into a place where transformation and healing can take place.
Don’t be afraid of the darkness of this day. Instead, take this opportunity to do some of the preparatory work necessary for newness and wholeness to come into your life.