How a panic attack before book club reminded me of the blessings that come with sharing your pain.
I finished reading a historical fiction novel yesterday, just in the nick of time for my book club gathering last night. Normally, I dread procrastination rather than being motivated by it, but when it comes to reading for pleasure, I have a tendency to allow our current book selection to fall to the bottom of my priority list. This results in me listening to the last hours of the book at 1.5x speed all day and even on the way to book club.
I woke up that morning with ten hours left on the book. Ambitious, to say the least. I cut a few of those hours off by upping the reading speed, and managed to squeeze in a few hours worth while the kiddo and I ate breakfast and ran errands.
Come afternoon, though, my progress was halted by something I haven’t experienced in a few years: a panic attack. I was so caught off guard by it that I ended up spending the rest of Judah’s nap time, usually dedicated to my writing and podcasting work, curled up in bed, listening to my book.
It was a Holocaust novel and, while it probably wasn’t ideal listening for post-panic attack, I wanted to finish it. So I pressed play as I tried to rest my body and my brain a bit. And as I laid there, eyes puffy and still breathing a bit heavier than normal, one of the narrators said something that I felt, deep in my weary soul. Speaking of one of the concentration camps she had been at and then rescued from during the course of the story, she said, “I’d survived Ravensbruck. How could ordinary life be harder than that?”
And as I considered my very ordinary life and my supremely ordinary problems that had led anxiety to grip my heart that afternoon, I wondered at the hardness of just ordinary life.
We have the same tendency as the character in my book, both in our own lives and between each other, to compare our pain. In our own hearts, we ask the question my book heroine did: I survived this or that, so why does this particular, current pain feel so difficult? And if we’re not criticizing ourselves, we compare our pain with that of others.
She’s going through something much harder, so I should just suck it up, or I don’t want to burden her with my problems because she’s got her own stuff going on.
And we stay silent. We cry into our pillows all afternoon, and then we show up at book club, acting like life is great. Or that’s the temptation, at least.
I know as intimately as anyone the truth that opening up about our pain with others feels difficult. One, I almost always get emotional, again, which is kind of exhausting. Two, it can take a lot of explaining, which makes me feel like I’m dominating the conversation. And three, I don’t want my friends to feel like I’m unloading on a therapist.
It would’ve been easier to paste on a cheery facade for book club and forget that afternoon’s pain altogether. Except that, while hiding under the covers that afternoon, I had sent a quick text to a friend, asking her to pray for me. My immediate temptation in the midst of these moments is usually to isolate and deal on my own. But if the emotions endure for a bit, I almost always feel the nudge to reach for help and let someone in.
In those painful moments, tapping out a quick text for prayer to a friend and hitting send before I lose my nerve is sometimes all I can muster up the courage for. It might not feel like much in the moment, but what you’re doing there is being vulnerable. You’re choosing to deny the enemy’s lie that your messy emotions are too shameful to be seen and instead letting someone in to see the pain.
When we do this, we’re not just inviting a friend in, we’re also inviting the Lord to care for our hearts through the mechanism of community. See, what ended up happening in my situation was that the friend I texted also happened to be in my book club. So when I showed up that evening, admittedly feeling much better, she asked me how I was doing, which then invited me to share my reality with others too. We talked, processed, laughed, and I know they’re now in my corner, praying for me.
Had I not texted this friend asking for prayer, I probably would’ve sailed through the rest of my day, no one the wiser to the pain of today’s ordinary life. That would’ve been okay. But I know the way the Lord worked it out was better.
If given a choice, my inclination is almost always to not want to bother others with my pain. My mind is quick with an excuse as to why I shouldn’t burden them, why I should just handle it. But the more I make the hard choice to let people in, the more I’m strengthening my vulnerability muscle.
Because it really is like a muscle, you know. When I don’t require its strength, it is slower and slower to jump into action. If I’m looking for one, I will always find an excuse to keep my pain to myself. But each time I choose to let someone in, be it a single friend through an SOS text, or a group of women gathered for a different purpose entirely but who care enough to derail and listen, I am growing stronger in my ability to vulnerably share my pain.
I’ll be honest though, sharing our pain may hurt, like when you work out and muscles tear a bit so they can heal stronger. It might be emotionally painful to relive the initial hurt by talking about it, or it might just tear down our pride a bit. The enemy wants us to believe that that pain means we should avoid doing such a thing. But once you start to practice this in your life, I think you’ll see the strength that can come here through those little tears. This strength from the Lord comes to you through others listening to your story, sitting with you in it, and finding encouragement in your shared sorrows.
Jesus demonstrated this in his own life, too. At his friend Lazarus’ tomb, even though he knew what he was going to do, he visibly shared his grief with his friends (John 11). In the Upper Room, he spoke his heart to his friends and shared his own sadness and hopes (John 13-18). And in Gethsemane, he took his closest friends with him and asked them to join him in fervent prayer over his anguished soul (Matt. 26).
Why weep when you hold the power of creation in your pinky finger?
Why express sadness when you are hope incarnate?
Why ask other people to pray with you when you already know the Father so intimately?
Because even Jesus experienced the hardness of ordinary life, and he apparently knew the blessings of sharing his pain with others.
This understanding, in fact, is what makes him able to “stick closer than a brother” to us. His life reminds us that we aren’t meant to experience the pain of this life alone. In it, we not only have Jesus at our side, who knows what that pain is like, but his life encourages us to imitate him in sharing our pain with others.
The enemy wants us to believe that pain is best experienced alone, that isolation will insulate us from the hurt. But dear friend, let’s recognize that as a lie and trade it for truth.
Even ordinary life is hard, for all of us. We might as well live it, survive it, heal from it…together.
Love ya, friend.
Your Sister, Kimber
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