"Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains..." C.S. Lewis

How do you want people to see you? I perused the answers to the multiple choice question on a spiritual gifts survey. How did I want others to see me, I wondered? One answer caught my attention. Surprised, but certain of my choice, I marked the box, Strong. I knew it was right, for as far back as I can remember, I have always wanted others to see me as strong.

Last summer, God decided it was time to expose a chink in my "strong" exterior armor. Through a chain of events, God revealed that in my attempt to appear strong I had managed to suppress much of the pain in my life. Not physical pain, (though it may have manifest itself that way), but pain which touches the heart and seeps down into the soul. God forced me to see that over my lifetime, I had mastered the ability to bury, deep down inside, any inconvenient, uncomfortable and irresolvable pain.

Subconsciously, I had designed a system to swiftly sweep away any unwelcome pain under an imaginary carpet in my heart. Until, that summer day, when I carefully went to whisk fresh pain underneath my "carpet." Abruptly, I discovered there was no more room. To my dismay, years and years of carefully hidden hurt, disappointment and grief came spilling out. And, I found myself engulfed in heartbreaking anguish that could no longer be contained. And, for hours, a torrent of tears and deep sobs shook my body.

That was the beginning of sudden, unpredictable and hard-to-control outbursts of tears and a deep ache over the next days, weeks and months. Helpless to stop it, I slowly realized I had no more capacity to keep my pain neatly hidden. Decades of loss, sorrow and grief which I had never allowed myself to feel, look at or deal with continued to surface, threatening to undo me, demanding to be attended to.

I am still in process. Slowly and tenderly, God continues to uncover new areas of pain. Thankfully, the frequency and intensity have subsided, but there are times when I wonder if it will ever end. And, in the middle of it all, I feel led to write this post and share with you what I have learned so far.

1) Recognize and Acknowledge Your Pain & It's Source

I am an expert at stuffing down pain at it's first twinge. In this season, I am learning that my own impatience, aggravation or anger may indicate that pain is struggling to be heard. God is also teaching me to recognize what truly triggers the pain in my life. Of course, the most obvious source, comes from the hurtful choices and actions of others. The next source, God showed me is from the loss that naturally happens as people (including our children) change, grow, mature and, sometimes, move away. And, I now recognize that part of the pain I suppressed is from the hopes, plans and dreams I expected to happen in my life, or the lives of others, that have not come to pass. In fact, they often seem to be headed in the opposite direction.

2) Allow Yourself to Feel, Look At and Grieve the Pain

Recently, I tried to encourage one of my mom friends. She is prayerfully contending for a wayward child. I attempted to rally her spirits with stories of my own wayward journey, my mother's prayers for my return, and how I believed God heard and would answer my friend's prayers too. As I watched her red-rimmed eyes, fight back tears, I recalled the lesson I was learning about pain. So, I said, "It's okay to cry. It's okay to let yourself feel the pain and grieve for your children." Relief filled her face, and the tears came, as I shared with her my own journey of learning not to simply suck up and stuff down pain, but to allow myself to feel it, look at it and to grieve.

3) Call Out to God & Cling to His Word

From the minute the great heap of old and new pain erupted like a volcano from under my imaginary carpet, God was there! As I called out to Him in my heartbreak and tears, He spoke to my soul. Words from the Bible came alive to me in a new way. I heard the words in my heart and then read them on the page, "You must forgive. Put on love. Put aside anger..." These life-giving, Words of Truth guided me away from allowing my pain to take me down a destructive path.

4) Seek Help, Prayer, & Godly Counsel (from a trusted & faithful few)

Of course, the first person who heard about, and saw, my pain was my husband. He listened and longed to help, but it was obvious, after several days, I needed extra help. I asked close friends to pray. I sought the counsel of older, trustworthy and godly mentors. And, I went away for a few days to pray, journal, read and seek God. There, alone with the Lord, I let myself feel the pain, look honestly at the issues that caused it (at least the ones which initially jarred loose the pain built up deep inside), and I let myself grieve: to rant, to cry, to hurt, to begin to heal!

5) Don't Wallow There Too Long

Never again do I want to ignore and push down the pain and sorrow of my past, or the fresh pain of my present. Nor do I want to stay there dwelling on it for too long. I know that to keep wallowing in the pain and sorrow of my past (or present) is not helpful or healthy for myself or others. I have discovered if I deal with pain right away, and release it to God when it's still fresh, it doesn't have time to go deep and become buried within. The Lord can then quickly and gently help me process it. I am able to hear His truth, find His comfort, and receive His precious healing touch.

I have heard others say, "I'm afraid to cry. Because, if I start I'm afraid I will never stop." Well, that's about what happened to me. Yet through it, I am learning that taking care of my pain is not a sign of weakness, but actually the source of great strength in Jesus. Re-learning how to deal with my pain is still a work in progress. How much longer it will take? What hurts still lay unattended in my soul? I do not know. Yet, I am hopeful!

Last January, I asked the Lord for a Word for 2013. The promise that came to mind was bittersweet. But, in it I have found great hope. My word for the year is from, Psalm 30:5. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. In this season of tears, I am very much looking forward to joy in the morning. 

How about you? How do you handle pain? Can you relate to times you have pushed down and buried pain in your life? Then, perhaps, this post is for you. It's okay to cry, you know. Feeling pain is NOT a sign of weakness! Taking care of pain is actually a source of great strength. Praying for you! Cathy

Photo credit