“Are you comfortable?”
(Yes. The answer is always yes.)
“Does it hurt?”
(No. Well, maybe, but I’m definitely not going to say anything.)
Yesterday at the dentist, he pressed and poked around my gums to see how I was feeling in regards to the unruly wisdom teeth that will soon be gone. As he did this, he asked me to let him know if something was uncomfortable. It was all uncomfortable. For some reason, I didn’t want to irritate him or sound like a whiny patient, so I remained quiet.
“Rachael,” he said, “I can tell just by looking that this must hurt. You need to know that it’s okay to acknowledge and rate your pain. It can cause further problems or even more intense, long term pain if you don’t address it.”
It wasn’t the first time someone told me that. My entire life, I have been told this by orthodontists, dentists, and numerous doctors. What is it about me that feels the need to suppress? Why do we feel it’s bad form to be honest about what we feel? Why do we feel it is necessary to put on a smile while we are screaming on the inside?
The other night, a good friend of mine was talking to me about some difficult things that have happened in some challenging seasons of my life. She said something that really struck me. “I know you are okay, and this pain won’t last forever. But it’s okay to mourn. It’s okay to feel the pain.” I realized that she was right…I needed to allow myself to feel pain, rather than being a people pleaser and simply pretending that everything is fine.
Here is the flaw in the plan of living as if there is no pain. If we believe that this world is not perfect, that we are living for God’s kingdom, this theory makes no sense. Also, would we need Jesus if we were flawless? If our circumstances were always perfect? What would that do to his life, his message, and the grace he provided? It would be obsolete. Jesus would be out of date and insignificant.
Jesus didn’t sugarcoat. Jesus faced reality head on. Jesus didn’t suppress and put on a facade. Jesus wept. If Jesus was capable of meeting people in their suffering, having his heart broken, and crying when loss occurred, why don’t we feel the ability to do the same?
Just as my dentist talked about how things could get worse if I neglected to acknowledge my physical pain, our own denial and suppression can greatly stunt our spiritual, emotional, and mental growth as well. I am not encouraging that we become negative or dwell on the struggles in our lives, but they cannot be swept under the rug. They are part of the journey. If I ignore my health problems, they will not get better. They will get much worse, my body will become weaker, and eventually it will just waste away. What does that say about our hearts, minds, and souls? We have to accept and acknowledge the pain in order to find healing.