In the movie, “The Princess Bride,” when Westley, a.k.a. The Dread Pirate Roberts, finally catches up with Buttercup and dispatches her kidnapper, she complains to him about how painful her life has been because Westley ran off and she never heard from him again. His reply is “Life is pain, your highness. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.”
Which goes to show that even in a Hollywood comedy, you run across profound truths.
This week I read an old blog post from Eric Barker’s blog, “Barking Up the Wrong Tree.” Someone had sent me the link. It was about Four Harsh Truths That Will Make You A Better Person if you embrace them. The four harsh truths are:
- You’re going to die
- Anything worthwhile takes more work than you think
- You will never be perfectly happy, and
- People will let you down.
You can see where this is going, I hope. Don’t expect perfection, from others or from yourself. Remember that life is full of struggle. Life is challenging. And, most of all, trying to avoid pain leads to pretty unhealthy outcomes. If you choose to numb your pain you are headed down a path to addictive behavior that can only mask or cover over the source. Avoidance perpetuates pain. The harder you try to deny it, the more insistent it can become. And when people try to point out the obvious to you, you will likely not respond well. Then you end up sharing the pain, inflicting it on others.
Barker’s lesson is simple. When we address the pain and its causes, we will live better lives. The psalmist knew this. In Psalm 32, the writer confesses: “While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” The New Testament teaches this. One of the standard invitations to confession says, “If we confess our sin, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
My point for the church is this: there is no shame in admitting our faults or talking about painful periods in the life of the church. We are people, mortal, finite, limited, imperfect people. Our life together is marked by mistakes, failures, and disappointments. If we deny them, try to hide them, pretend they did not happen, they will lurk in the background and exert a malign influence. If we bring them out into the light, they will be disinfected and have no more power.
Another wise spiritual teacher said we only have two choices about what to do with our pain. We transform it by being honest about it and dealing with it; or we transmit it to others because it remains unhealed.
So, I understand the reluctance to talk about difficult times in the history of the church, the temptation to deny them, to justify and defend. But procrastination and denial only prolong the pain and keep it active. Life is also full of joy, laughter, blessing, and love. And compassionate attention to pain brings about more joy in the end because it opens us to God and each other and brings us closer. Life is hard. But it’s also beautiful.